Chapter 6 Absalom’s Revolt

In: A King and a Fool?
Author: Virginia Miller
Open Access

6.1 2 Samuel 15–18

6.1.1 2 Samuel 15:1

At the lower level of 15:1 it is reported that Absalom obtained a chariot, horses, and fifty men to run ahead of him. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Absalom intends to mount a challenge to the throne, given that the chariot, horses, and running men constitute a small army. Here there is an opposition between what is explicitly reported and what is implied. Absalom is the object of ironic attack since the implication, indeed insinuation, concerns his treasonable actions. The content of the irony is Absalom’s intended challenge to the throne.

The grade of verbal irony is covert as it is not immediately apparent. The mode of the verbal irony is impersonal, and the sub-category of impersonal irony is insinuation.1 As stated above, the insinuation is that Absalom’s display of chariot, horses, and running men constitutes a royal challenge.2 This insinuation is consistent with Mauchline’s remark that Absalom’s retinue was in fact a private army,3 and also with Anderson’s comment that חמשׁים is a standard military unit as found in Exodus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 1:15.4 The insinuation claim is more plausible than the claim that horses and chariots were merely symbols of royal status and that, therefore, Absalom’s retinue did not indicate the signs of the beginning stages of a revolt.5

Furthermore, the argument that Absalom was in the early stages of mounting a challenge against David’s throne is strengthened by 1 Samuel 8:11, which strongly implies that Absalom was acting as a king might:

ויאמר זה יהוה משׁפט המלך אשׁר ימלך עליכם את־בניכם יקח ושׂם לו במרכבתו ובפרשׁיו ורצו לפני מרכבתו

(He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots”).6

The insinuation (that Absalom will act unlawfully) is strengthened by the allusion to 1 Samuel 8:11, since not only is Absalom acting as a king might act, but he is acting as a corrupt king might act. It is also worth noting that the information in this verse strengthens the claim that David’s judgement to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem was ill-conceived.

Of note, there is a complexity in this verse as Absalom’s threat to David’s kingship is in keeping with God’s promise to punish David in 2 Samuel 12:10–11. Thereby, although the challenge to David’s throne comes in the distinct form of Absalom, who is dissatisfied with David’s inability to exercise judgement correctly (2 Sam. 13:21–22, 13:23–37, 14:32), Absalom’s challenge is actually part of God’s punishment of David (2 Sam. 12:10–11), and is therefore preordained.

6.1.2 2 Samuel 15:2–3

At the lower level of 15:2 Absalom arose early, stood beside the road near the gate of the city, and asked the people who had come in order to bring a case before the king for judgement, what city they were from. When the people answered that they were from a tribe of Israel, Absalom responded that their cases were “good and right,” but that nobody had been appointed by the king’s office to hear the cases (15:3). Absalom’s assertion is not credible since there is evidence of the king exercising his own judgement in three verses in 2 Samuel. In 8:15 it is reported that David administered justice to the people, in 12:1–6 David passes judgement in the case of the rich man, and in 14:10 David passes judgement in the case of the woman from Tekoa. Therefore, it can be assumed that there was somebody to hear the people’s claims. Moreover, Absalom would have known this and, crucially, also known that it was the king and not some appointee who exercised judgement in these cases; indeed, this was an important role of the king. Further, the people who had come to bring their case before the king would also have known all this. Therefore, Absalom’s assertion is a pretence. Specifically, he is pretending that he does not know that it is an important role of the king to exercise judgment in these cases. So, Absalom in performing this act of pretended ignorance is implying that David is an incompetent administrator of justice, and by extension, an incompetent king. In dismissing the king in this manner, Absalom sets himself up as a perfect replacement (at least in his own view of himself) in the next episode.

The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what is said and what is meant. Although Absalom says that there is nobody deputed by the king to hear their claims, the evidence suggests that the king would hear the people’s cases and that they would know this. Absalom’s remark that a position existed whereby a representative of the king would hear claims is plainly a deceit. No position is mentioned in the lists of David’s officials (2 Sam. 8:15). David is the object of Absalom’s ironic attack. However, there is a further irony and Absalom is the object of this second ironic attack. Moreover, Absalom himself is the confidently unaware victim of this second instance of irony. For Absalom takes a stance of moral superiority in relation to David, despite the fact that he is the beneficiary of David’s incompetence. Specifically, as previously discussed, Absalom was responsible for the unlawful killing of Amnon, and the just outcome of Amnon’s unlawful killing was either death or exile for Absalom. But David permitted Absalom to go unpunished and did so as a result of trickery—trickery that Absalom is blissfully unaware of. It can be assumed that Absalom wrongly believes that there is no legitimate guilt in him (14:33), for the reason that David has restored him to his former position in Jerusalem. Yet, the reader knows that Absalom is only in Jerusalem because David was tricked by the woman of Tekoa.

Further discussion is needed in reference to Absalom’s ironic attack on David. Here the grade of verbal irony is overt as Absalom’s’ pretence will be immediately apparent to his audience, given their background knowledge. Moreover, it belongs to the sub-category of pretended ignorance. As far as the background knowledge of the narrative is concerned, 15:2 indicates that Absalom positioned himself in the context of a formal legal setting. Meir Malul remarks,

This court of law was convened in the שׁער (gate), the known place of judgement and other legal transactions in ancient times, and early in the morning …, when courts of law used to convene in ancient times. The Judges (and litigants/defendants) are said to stand to pass judgement, as it is said about Absalom too.7

Yet, the irony arises in 15:3 as Absalom tells the people:

ויאמר אליו אבשׁלום ראה דברך טובים ונכהים ושׁמע אין־לך מאת המלך

(Absalom would say, “See your claims are good and right; but there is no one deputed by the king to hear you”).8

This statement, on Absalom’s part, is problematic, as the people are waiting for judgement from the king (15:2). This difficulty has led to the argument that David had begun to neglect administering justice,9 or that it was difficult to get a hearing before the king because of bureaucratic incompetence.10 These claims are potentially true. However, it cannot be denied that Absalom’s words are misleading since the people had come to put their case before the king as was customary.11

Absalom’s dismissiveness of the king as incompetent, taken in context, implies that Absalom wanted to be the king. For instance, the people did not come to Absalom but instead he called out to them (15:2). This suggests that he redirected the people from where they intended to go, which was presumably to the king so that their claims could be heard (15:2).12 The insinuation here is that Absalom was actively vying for the king’s role as judge. The evidence for such an insinuation is strengthened by our knowledge of Absalom’s anger towards David described in the previous chapters (2 Sam. 14:32).

6.1.3 2 Samuel 15:4–6

At the lower level of 15:4 Absalom remarks that if he were judge he would give justice to everybody who brought cases to him. In 15:5 Absalom kisses the hands of the people who come near to him to do obeisance. In 15:6 it is reported that Absalom treats every Israelite who comes to the king for judgement in this way and that he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Absalom’s actions were manipulative and that he was seeking to ingratiate himself with the people. The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what is said and what is meant.

Absalom’s attempt at ingratiation, in the context of our background knowledge of the text, suggests that Absalom is vying to be king. For instance, although Absalom tells the people in 15:3 that there is nobody who is deputed by the king to hear them in 15:4 he does not suggest that he should be a hearer for the king, but instead a ‪שׁפט‬.13 This indicates that Absalom is making a claim for the throne.14 We can assume this because when the Israelites asked Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:5 to give them a king, their sole request was that he would be their judge. Moreover, in 1 Samuel 8:20 the Israelites ask Samuel for a שׁפטנו מלכנו15 to go out to battle before them. In short, the Israelites want a king who has both the role of a judge and that of a military leader. Arguably, Absalom’s small army (collection of a chariot, horses and running men in 15:1) is a symbolic reference to the request for a military leader. Evidently, then, these verses challenge Herrmann’s argument that Absalom was appealing to the tradition of the judges, over the tradition of kings.16

We have seen that the ironist is implying that Absalom is trying to steal the throne. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal, and the sub-category of impersonal irony is insinuation. The insinuation is heightened in 15:5. In this verse Absalom acts as a modern-day politician on a campaign trail might garnering popularity in an attempt to secure power.17 This way of proceeding is in itself inappropriate since it is God who chooses the king; it is not meant to be a popularity contest. Like David in 2 Samuel 14:33 Absalom’s kisses to the people of Israel are insincere, indeed manipulative.18 The deceptiveness is further explored in 15:6b:

ויגנב אבשׁלום את־לב אנשׁי ישׂראל

(… so Absalom deceived the men of Israel).19

This expression does not mean that Absalom captivated the hearts of the people, but rather that Absalom deceived the people or stole their will. The antecedent of ויגנב את־לב is found in Genesis 31:20 where Jacob clearly deceives Laban:

ויגנב יעקב את־לב לבן20

In 15:4–6, Absalom is the object of ironic attack and the unknowing victim of irony as it would appear that Absalom is confidently unaware that he does not display the right characteristics to be a good judge or king. The grade of verbal irony is covert as it is conveyed in the language and is informed by the background knowledge of the text.

It might also be argued that David is implicitly criticized in the section as his failings as a king have paved the way for an uprising. The current discontent may be traced back to David’s transgressions in chapter 11 where David committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:4), and gave orders for Uriah’s execution (2 Sam. 11:14–15). As a result of these transgressions Yahweh tells David in 2 Sam 12:11:

מקים עליך רעה מביתך

(… I will raise up evil against you out of your own house …)21

This is confirmed in chapter 13 when Amnon rapes Tamar (2 Sam. 13:14), and in the retaliatory killing of Amnon ordered by Absalom (2 Sam. 13:29). It could be said that Absalom’s anger would have been abated had David punished Amnon (2 Sam. 13:21–22). It can certainly be maintained that Absalom was frustrated that David would not pass a definitive judgement in his own case (2 Sam. 14:32), and that this fuelled his present subversive action. This narrative then outlines the extent of the troubles which are brought about by disobeying God’s laws.

6.1.4 2 Samuel 15:7–9

At the lower level of 15:7 it is reported that after forty years Absalom asked the king if he (Absalom) could go to Hebron and pay the vow that he had made to the Lord. In 15:8 Absalom goes on to say that he made a vow while he lived in Geshur: if the Lord brings him back to Jerusalem, Absalom will then worship the Lord in Hebron. In 15:9 the king tells Absalom to go in peace, so Absalom goes to Hebron. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Absalom intends to go to Hebron for the purpose of usurping the throne. This implication is strengthened by the mention of Absalom’s belief that God is on his side (15:8). The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what is said and what is meant. The sub-category of impersonal irony, in this instance, is insinuation.

The ironist insinuates that Absalom is going to Hebron to usurp the throne. The grade of the verbal irony, in this instance, is covert as it is conveyed in the anomalous language and only fully understood with reference to the background knowledge of the text. As far as the anomalous language is concerned, 15:7 begins this section with the problematic statement that Absalom went to speak to the king at the end of ‪ארבעים שׁנה‬.22 It would seem implausible to suggest that Absalom waited forty years to do this, which has commonly caused scholars to suggest that this is an error which is better read as four years, as it is written in the Syriac versions and the Vulgate.23 I would argue that forty years is an exaggeration or an overstatement and that this is an instance of verbal irony. The overstatement emphasises the insinuation that Absalom is going to challenge the throne. Here the figure of forty years alludes to the forty years of David’s reign over Israel.24 Accordingly, the implication is that David has reigned for a long time, perhaps too long, and that therefore a challenge to the throne from Absalom is likely.

The background information which indicates an insinuation in the narrative concerns David’s history with Hebron. Absalom’s decision to go to Hebron is striking, given David’s history with the city. In 2 Samuel 2:1 the Lord tells David to go to Hebron, where David became the king of Judah in Hebron for seven years and six months (2 Sam. 2:11). In 2 Samuel 5:3 the elders of the Northern tribes of Israel came to Hebron, and David made a covenant with them. This resulted in David being anointed as the king over all of Israel. Furthermore, Hertzberg suggests that the Hebronites were hostile towards David for moving the holy capital to Jerusalem.25 Thereby, it can be assumed that Absalom’s actions are provocative and that his intention may be to usurp the throne, strengthening the idea of an insinuation in this passage.

However, the argument that Absalom went to Hebron in order to begin a revolution against David is contentious. Alter suggests that this vow may have been a vow of penance,26 it may also be the case that Absalom was making a routine vow as a temporary Nazirite. McCarter argues that the vow that Absalom made was to the Hebronite Yahweh and could therefore not be honoured in Jerusalem.27 Yet, Fokkelman suggests that Absalom is feigning piety in order to trick David into allowing him to go to Hebron where he intended to uphold the vow that he made to himself to take revenge and usurp David’s position.28 This latter interpretation would seem to be correct in the light of Absalom’s small army, efforts at ingratiation with the people of Israel etc. It is also in keeping with the other deceptions in the SN where members of the royal court feign civil behaviour in order to achieve corrupt ends.

Let me now turn to the ironic content of the insinuation that Absalom is intending to usurp the throne. In 15:8b Absalom says:

אם ישׁיבני יהוה ירושׁלם ועבדתי את־יהוה

(If the Lord indeed brings me back to Jerusalem, then I will serve the Lord).29

This verse suggests that Absalom believes that God is on his side, specifically, that Absalom is righteous since God has chosen to restore him to Jerusalem. However, the reader knows that the only reason that Absalom is back in Jerusalem is because the woman of Tekoa tricked David into bringing Absalom out of exile in chapter 14.30 This indicates that Absalom is confidently unaware that it was not at Yahweh’s instigation that he was returned to Jerusalem. Instead, Joab was the architect of Absalom’s return, as Joab hired a successful actress and counted on David’s foolishness. If it were the case that Yahweh brought it about that Absalom was returned to Jerusalem, then God’s laws and punishments would have been compromised.

Absalom intends to usurp the throne. He does so in the belief that he is God’s chosen one since God is responsible for returning him from exile. However, it is a trick played on David by Joab that has in fact caused him to be returned him from exile. So, ironically, Absalom’s intended action, far from being righteous is actually treasonous. In this episode Absalom is the object of ironic attack. Moreover, Absalom’s confident unawareness of what is actually going on makes him a victim of irony.

6.1.5 2 Samuel 15:10

At the lower level of 15:10 Absalom sends messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to tell them to shout that Absalom has become the king at Hebron and do so as soon as they hear the trumpet. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist knows that David is the king of Israel and, indeed, the rightful king, and that there is no credible evidence to suggest that Absalom has gained Yahweh’s favour. Of course, Absalom wrongly suspects that his return to Jerusalem is a result of God’s intervention and that, therefore, he is the rightful king. As already mentioned, it is clear that God works through human agents, and God’s actions can be seen in events, but it would be inconsistent for God to initiate action that is contrary to the law, i.e. returning Absalom to Jerusalem. The opposition in the narrative is between Absalom’s claim to be the rightful king and our background knowledge that he is not. It is ironic that Absalom, a transgressor and beneficiary of trickery, believes himself to be the rightful king. Absalom is, therefore, the object of the ironic attack. He is also the unknowing victim of the irony since it is his hubris that causes him to think that he has God’s favour.

The grade of verbal irony is covert, as it is not immediately apparent, and is implied in part by our background knowledge and in part by the language used in the narrative. As has already been mentioned, we know that Absalom is not the rightful king. At the lower level this verse could be interpreted as a straightforward deception or misunderstanding on Absalom’s part. However, in the text there is an emphasis on the words מלך אבשׁלום בחברון. This emphasis implies that Absalom is a fool since the stress is on his declaration that he is the rightful king when, of course, he is not. This ironic attack on Absalom ridicules him by way of his own misrepresentation of himself as king. Therefore, the sub-category of impersonal irony involved is misrepresentation or false statement. This sub-category of irony draws attention to what is true by way of emphasizing what is not true. The content of the irony is Absalom’s belief that he is the rightful king and the fact that he is acting on this belief.

Of note, 15:10 confirms that Absalom’s intention in going to Hebron was to create an uprising against David, and that he was not going for religious reasons. Absalom was similarly deceptive in 2 Samuel 13:24–27 when he tricked the king into sending Amnon to an ambush, albeit not in the service of usurping the throne but rather to avenge his sister. Absalom’s deceptiveness can also be discerned in 15:6, when he steals the hearts of the people of Israel. This pattern of deceptive behaviour on the part of Absalom suggests that his actions of cutting his hair (in 2 Sam. 14:26) was not an expression of public piety, even supposing he was a Nazarite.

6.1.6 2 Samuel 15:11

At the lower level of 15:11 it is stated that two hundred men from Jerusalem went with Absalom as invited guests but had no knowledge of what was going on. At the upper level the ironist is feigning ignorance and pretending that the men do not have any knowledge of Absalom’s intentions, when they actually do.

The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what is said and what is meant. The narrator tells us the men had no knowledge of what was going on, when they really did. The evidence that they did know what Absalom intended is our knowledge that Absalom sent messengers to all the tribes of Israel to declare himself to be king. Thereby, in 15:11 the ironist is feigning ignorance; so, the ironist is the source of the innocence in the narrative. Moreover, the grade of verbal irony is covert and the mode of verbal irony is impersonal irony. The sub-category of impersonal irony is pretended error or ignorance. In this sub-category of impersonal irony the ironist pretends not to know the truth. The object of ironic attack is the two hundred men from Jerusalem. They are the object of pejorative criticism since they were implicated in Absalom’s attempt to usurp the throne.

Of note, Fokkelman argues that the ‘innocence’ in this verse highlights David’s ignorance of what is going on around him.

Their innocence תמם is so strongly emphasized … that I find the designations ironic. The naivety of these simpletons recalls David’s blind spot, which he shows by his apparent surprise in 15:13.31

I agree with Fokkelman that the men’s ‘innocence’ is emphasised and is an indicator of irony. However, in my view, and for the reasons given, this innocence is only pretended.

6.1.7 2 Samuel 15:12

At the lower level of 15:12 Absalom offers sacrifices and sends for Ahithophel the Gilonite who is David’s counsellor from Giloh. Verse 15:12 also states that Absalom’s conspiracy grew, and more people joined him. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Absalom is sending for someone to act as his war counsellor. Moreover, at the upper level the ironist insinuates that Absalom is a fool, given this counsellor rejoices in a name that means “My brother is folly.” The opposition in the narrative is the incongruity in the prince’s decision to send for a counsellor—someone who is to provide advice—yet whose name means, “My brother is folly.”32 In this episode Absalom is both the object of ironic attack and the unknowing victim of irony. The irony arises from the opposition between the two levels. The grade of verbal irony is overt and is apparent from the language, including the use of a name meaning “My brother is folly”.

The evidence in respect of the meaning of Ahithophel’s name is as follows. Hertzberg argues that Ahithophel is translated to mean “My brother is folly.”33 McCarter suggests that the name means “foolishness, insipidity.”34 Both men agree that Ahithophel is a play on the proper name Eliphelet, which translates as “God is release” or “deliverance”. McCarter writes, “… Ahithophel might be a deliberate distortion satirizing the man’s ill-used wisdom.”35

Although the name “Absalom” is not in itself satirical it has a satirical connotation in this context; indeed, its use in this context is ironic. For the name means “Father is peace,” and yet David (Absalom’s father) is known for being a military king, and in this instance, Absalom is setting out to wage a war against David!

The upshot of all this is that Absalom is the object of a twofold ironic attack. It is insinuated that he is a fool for seeking war counsel from Ahithophel, but also a war-monger for planning to wage an unjust war against his father. Therefore, the symbolism arising from the combination of the meanings of the two names in this context—the meanings, “Father is peace” and “foolishness”—is deeply ironic.

The mode of verbal irony in this verse is impersonal, and the sub-category is insinuation. The insinuation is that Ahithophel is not only a fool but a war-monger.36

6.1.8 2 Samuel 15:13–17

This passage involves two distinct instances of irony. The first of these is present in the form of ridicule or “low burlesque” writing. In this form of verbal irony a person of high status is presented in a manner ordinarily reserved for a person of low status.37

At the lower level of 15:13 a messenger tells David that “the hearts of the Israelites have gone after Absalom.” In 15:14 David tells his officials that they must flee or Absalom will attack them and bring disaster on them and the city. In 15:15 David’s officials tell him that they are ready to do whatever David tells them to do. In 15:16 the king leaves Jerusalem with his household, except for ten concubines who are left to look after the house. In 15:17 it is stated that David left with all of the people and they stopped when they came to the last house. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that the king is a coward or is at least acting contrary to his warrior image. The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what David does in this passage (act in a cowardly manner), and what the ironist otherwise knows of David (that he is a great warrior).

David is the object of ironic attack and the grade of verbal irony is covert. The irony depends in part on our background knowledge and in part on the kind of language used. For instance, 15:14 is replete with overstated language showing David to be in an uncustomary panic:

והדיח עלינו את־הרעה והכה העיר לפי־חרכ ,מהרו ,לא־תהיה־לנו פליטה ,קומו ונברחה

(and bring upon us evil and strike the city with the edge of the sword; hurry; we shall not escape; Arise and let us flee).38

Not only is the language overstated in 15:14, but it is also in stark contrast to David’s controlled remark in 2 Samuel 11:25:

אל־ירע בעיניך את־הדבר הזה כי־כזה וכזה יאכל החרב

(Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another.)39

Therefore, the portrayal of David in 15:14 is radically different from in earlier verses. In earlier verses he is portrayed as calm and self-possessed. Ironically, the composed military leader is now a foolish coward. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal and the sub-category of impersonal irony is low burlesque.

The second instance of irony in the passage is as follows. These events narrated in 15:13–17 connect back to chapter 12. In chapter 12 God promised to punish David for his transgressions. Specifically, God said that David’s wives would be taken from him (2 Samuel 12:11). However, as we saw above, the events narrated in 15:16 include David deliberately leaving his concubines behind to look after the house in the context of his panicky flight from Absalom:

ויצא המלך וכל־ביתו ברגליו ויעזב המלך את עשׂר נשׁים פלגשׁים לשׁמר הבית

(So the king left, followed by all his household, except ten concubines whom he left behind to look after the house).40

In short, ironically, David is the architect of God’s punishment of him; for it is David who decides to leave his ‘wives’ behind for Absalom to take.

This irony is not merely observable but is intended by the author. For it is incongruous that in the midst of fleeing Jerusalem in a panic to save his life David would organise for a group of women to remain in Jerusalem to look after the house. Moreover, this incident explicitly connects to God’s punishment described in chapter 12. In 2 Samuel 12:11 God says that David’s wives will be given to somebody else who will take them before everybody in Israel.

In addition, in 2 Samuel 12:10 God says that the sword will never leave David’s house. In 2 Samuel 12:11 God says that trouble will be raised from within David’s own house. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, if David had punished Amnon then it might be assumed that Absalom’s rage would be assuaged. If David had killed Absalom or left him in exile, the revolt would not have begun. If David had taken his concubines with him then they would not be vulnerable to possible attack. Taken together, all these events suggest that David is the instigator of his own punishment.

6.1.9 2 Samuel 15:18

At the lower level of 15:18 it is stated that David left Israel with the Cherethites, the Pelethites, and all of the six hundred Gittites who followed him from Gath. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David is about to wage war against Israel. Importantly, he is about to do so with mercenaries who previously were prepared to fight for the Philistines with David and against the Israelites (1 Sam. 27:2, 29:8). This portrayal of David is in stark contrast with the portrayal of David in the legend of David’s rise. In the legend of David’s rise David defied the Philistines and saved the Israelites. For instance, in the rise of David, David became a hero when he killed a giant Philistine with only a slingshot (1 Sam. 17:49). David slays Goliath and makes the following declaration (1 Sam. 17:45):

אתה בא אלי בחרב ובתנית ובכידון ואנכי בא־אליך בשׁם יהוה צבאות אלהי מערכות ישׁראל אשׁר חרפת

(You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied).41

In contrast, the mention of the Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites in the current verse, is a reminder of David’s days of fighting on behalf of the Philistines. For instance, Auld suggests that the word פלתי is an alternative spelling for פלשׁתי, and therefore it would seem reasonable to assume that these were the men who fought with David and the Philistines.42 Moreover, it is documented that six-hundred men followed him to Gath (1 Sam. 27:2). These men are presumably the same men who are mentioned in 15:18. Further, David was told by Achish, the king of the Philistines that it was necessary for David to fight with the Philistines against all of Israel (1 Sam. 28:1) and David was prepared to do this. However, David was dismissed from the Philistine army (1 Sam. 29:1–11), despite his protestations because Achish did not trust him. (1 Sam. 29:8). The implication of 15:18—taken in conjunction with 1 Samuel 28:1; 29:1–11, is that David is disloyal to Israel and generally untrustworthy. This portrayal of David is a parody of David in the legend of David’s rise—a heroic figure steadfastly loyal to Israel.

In 15:18 David is the object of the ironic attack and the grade of verbal irony is covert. The irony relies on background knowledge. The mode of irony is impersonal, and the sub-category is parody.

6.1.10 2 Samuel 15:19–20

At the lower level of 15:19 David asks Ittai the Gittite why he is coming with them. David tells him to go back and stay with the king because Ittai is a foreigner and an exile. In 15:20 David says that Ittai came to Israel not long ago and asks Ittai if David should make him join David in exile. David tells Ittai to go back and to take his kinsfolk with him, and gives him a blessing. At the upper level of the narrative, in asking these questions David is implicitly making statements, i.e. these are rhetorical questions. As will shortly emerge, the implication of these rhetorical questions is that David does not trust Ittai and would like him to return to Israel. The opposition is between what David explicitly says in his questions to Ittai and what David implies.

The implied content of these rhetorical questions relies in part on our background knowledge and in part on features of the language used in the passage. For instance, the words that David uses in his command to Ittai are unusual, notably, David’s mention of Absalom as king. There is confusion in the story as the narrator speaks of David as the king, and David speaks of Absalom as the king. Hertzberg argues that this is not an instance of irony. Instead, he argues that David’s speech is the appropriate manner to talk to a foreign soldier.43 However, this argument presupposes that David recognises Absalom as the king. If this is not the case, reference to the king may either be seen to be sarcastic, or a test of Ittai’s loyalty. It is difficult to know which interpretation is better in this case. Fortunately, the rhetorical questions give us additional clues.

The first rhetorical question in this section is as follows (15:19):

למה תלך גם־אתה אתנו

(Why are you also coming with us?)44

In this instance it can be assumed that David is not truly interested in why Ittai is going with him. If this were to be the case it would seem logical that David would wait for a response to the question. David does not wait for a response but instead commands Ittai to return to Jerusalem (15:19).

The second rhetorical question arises in 15:20. In 15:20 David says: “You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, while I go wherever I can?” David is clearly not interested in determining whether Ittai wants David to make him follow him around. After all, immediately prior to asking this rhetorical question David had told Ittai to return to Jerusalem. Moreover, David told Ittai to return to Jerusalem because of Ittai’s status as a foreigner and an exile who has not been in Israel long. In 15:18 we learnt that the majority of people who went with David, were in fact, exiled foreigners. The difference between Ittai and these other exiled foreigner’s rests, then, on the amount of time that Ittai had lived in Jerusalem. Ittai had only been in Jerusalem for a short amount of time (15:20), whereas David’s other soldiers had been with him for a long time (8:18).

Baldwin takes the majority position and argues that this episode is a good example of David’s kindness. Indeed, she remarks, “Such thoughtfulness in a time of stress shows David at his best.”45 The difficulty with this proposition however, is that it is not consistent with how the narrative has portrayed David thus far. It is unlikely that the narrator would suddenly and radically change David’s behaviour and character in the midst of the narrative. Therefore, it is reasonable to look for other reasons why David suggests to Ittai to turn around and return to Jerusalem.

One possible answer is that Ittai had not been in David’s company long enough to earn his trust. Thereby, it would be risky to keep an unknown person close-by given the political situation. However, it would not be risky to send Ittai back to Jerusalem believing that David is doing him a favour. This claim is in keeping with Campbell’s suggestion that the dialogue between David and Ittai is an example of diplomatic discourse.46 Thereby, the message in the first rhetorical question is “Do not come with us.” The message in the second rhetorical question is, “I have not known you long enough to trust you as I hide from Absalom.”

The passage concludes with David’s seemingly heartfelt farewell blessing of Ittai:

את־אחיך עמך חסד ואמת

(Go back, take your fellow countrymen with you; and may the Lord show you mercy and faithful love).47

However, arguably, this is a politically motivated act on the part of David. David is the object of the ironic attack, as he acts as a devious politician might. Ittai may or may not be the unknowing victim of irony depending on whether or not he apprehends the implied content of David’s rhetorical questions. We return to this matter in the next section. The grade of verbal irony is covert as the implied content of the rhetorical questions is not immediately apprehended.

6.1.11 2 Samuel 15:21–22

At the lower level of 15:21 Ittai says to the king that as long as the king lives and wherever the king will be, Ittai will be the king’s servant. In 15:22 David says to Ittai to pass by, and Ittai and everybody with Ittai pass by. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Ittai ingratiates himself with David. The opposition in the narrative arises from the subtle difference between what is said and what is meant. Ittai says that he is loyal to the king, however, as mentioned, he is ingratiating himself with David. David is the unknowing victim of irony, since his own ironic rhetorical questions (15:19–20) have left him vulnerable to Ittai’s flattering response. Whether or not Ittai was aware of David’s dissimulation in the previous section cannot be answered with certainty.48 If Ittai is aware of David’s dissimulation then he is not a victim of David’s ironic rhetorical questions. Moreover, it can be assumed that Ittai is dissimulating in response and, therefore, is merely a faux-victim, i.e. he is pretending to be an unknowing victim. If, on the other hand, Ittai did not grasp the ironic content in David’s rhetorical questions then Ittai is an actual unknowing victim of David’s ironic rhetorical questions. Given the overstatement in the language used by Ittai it is more likely that Ittai was in fact dissimulating and is, therefore, merely a faux victim.

The grade of verbal irony is covert, as it is not immediately apparent. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal, and the sub-category is overstatement. The overstatement in this verse relies on repetition and the placement of words. The repetition is evident with respect to key words. The word מלך appears three times, references to life similarly appear thrice (2x חי and חיים). The word אדוני appears twice, as does the word יהוה. Another anomaly in 15:21 is the placement of the word death before the word life.

6.1.12 2 Samuel 15:23

It might be suggested that there is no irony in 15:23. However, there is still an obvious incongruity in the situation.

At the lower level of 15:23 the country weeps as David passes over into the wilderness. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David is officially an exile when he crosses the נחל קדרון which is considered to be the boundary of the city.49 This event is juxtaposed with Absalom’s return from exile (2 Sam. 14:21). The commonality in both of these situations is that they are unlawful events. Absalom’s return has no basis in either the laws of Israel, or the case study of Cain and Abel. David’s exile, although brought about by his failure to administer justice, is unlawful, as there is no evidence to suggest that God has marked Absalom as the new king. Absalom’s belief that it was God who brought him back from exile (2 Sam. 15:8) is erroneous, as it was the trickery of Joab and the woman of Tekoa which facilitated his return (2 Sam. 14:1–21). Absalom’s return is in fact contrary to God’s decrees. Arguably, the ironist is feigning ignorance of the incongruity. If so then the ironist is the faux-victim in the narrative. The grade of verbal irony is covert. The mode of irony is impersonal, and the sub-category is irony displayed; a category in which the irony arises from the events of the narrative. The content of the irony is the instability in the monarchy.

6.1.13 2 Samuel 15:24–29

At the lower level of 15:24 Abiathar, Zadok, and all of the Levites come up carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set the ark down until all of the people pass by. In 15:25 David tells Zadok to return the ark of the covenant back to the city. David reasons that if he is in God’s favour, God will return him to Jerusalem where he can see the ark and the city. In 15:26 David says, if God is not pleased with him then God should do what he wants with David. At the lower level of 15:27 David tells Zadok to go back to the city with Abiathar, and their sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan. In 15:28 David says that he will wait at the fords of the wilderness until Zadok brings back word to David. In 15:29 Zadok and Abiathar return the ark of the covenant of God back to the city and stay there.

It is a matter of background knowledge that there is a tradition of the king having the ark with him in battle since it indicates God’s presence. Therefore, we can assume that David would want the ark to be with him in battle. Nevertheless, at the explicit level, David sends the priests away with the ark because he says that he has faith that God will restore him in Jerusalem, if this is part of God’s plan. However, at the implicit level of 15:27–29 it appears that David had a different reason for sending the priests back to Jerusalem—he wanted to use them as spies. In this regard, returning the ark acts as a cover-story.50 The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what is said and what is meant. What David says is that he wants Zadok and Abiathar to return the ark to Jerusalem, as it is God who will decide if he is to see the city again of not. However, it can be assumed that David does want the ark to be with him in which case David has decided that a spy network is more useful to him at this point than the ark. The implication of David’s organizing a spy network is that he ultimately wants to return from exile. Yet this decision in favour of the spy network does imply a lack of faith in the traditions of Israel since, as mentioned, the ark of the covenant was thought to indicate God’s presence on the battlefield. Moreover, David is in effect using the transport of the ark of the covenant by the priests as a cover for the creation of his spy network. Ironically, then, David is displaying a lack of faith in God, indeed disrespecting God’s sacred object (the ark), while claiming to be motivated by faith in God. Therefore, David is the object of ironic attack. The grade of verbal irony is covert and the communication of the ironic content relies on the language used and on our background knowledge.

Regarding the language used, the rhetorical question in 15:27 is somewhat unclear:

הרואה אתה

There is a debate concerning the exact translation of it. De Groot and Carlson translate it to mean, “You are no seer, are you?”51 On the other hand, Anderson interprets this statement as “Are you not an observant man?”52 Either way, this statement is a rhetorical question.53 This is consistent with the verse being ironic. However, Anderson’s interpretation that David is implicitly asking the men to be spies is more plausible. For one thing, David would need to avoid explicitly instructing the priests to be spies, using the ark as their cover; instead, he would need to imply this. For another thing, the spy interpretation is supported by David’s statement that he will wait to meet them, for he would need to meet them in order to hear their intelligence report (15:28).

Baldwin provides another perspective. Baldwin suggests that David is not superstitious in relation to the ark and does not see the need to have it with him in battle.54 However, the suggestion that David is not superstitious in relation to the ark is not consistent with David’s past behaviour in relation to the ark which manifested his superstition.55

Consistent with Baldwin’s view, Fokkelman argues that David surrenders himself to his faith in Yahweh.56 Fokkelman goes on to argue that it is indicative of David’s maturity that he has faith in God yet does not rely on God to realise his plans. He speaks of this as ‘synergism’.57 As a general theoretical point concerning the relationship between faith in God and human action, Fokkelman’s argument is in my view unexceptionable. However, I do not accept that David’s behaviour displays this level of maturity. David’s behaviour is disrespectful to the traditions of Israel; specifically, his cynical use of the priests and the ark in the service of his spy network. Such disrespect is not the same thing as not being superstitious.

6.1.14 2 Samuel 15:31

2 Samuel 15:31 confirms the irony in 2 Samuel 15:25–26. In 2 Samuel 15:25–26 David sends the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem and says that he has faith that God will restore him in Jerusalem, if this is part of God’s plan. Yet, in 2 Samuel 15:31 David implores God to help him. Mauchline has identified this inconsistency when he argues, “His prayer that Ahithophel’s wisdom should be turned to foolishness shows that David could not accept this news [the news that Ahithophel is conspiring with Absalom against David] with the equanimity and trust in God which he had shown in sending the Ark back to Jerusalem.”58 This inconsistency supports the view put forward in my above discussion of 2 Samuel 15:25–26 according to which these verses involve verbal irony. As stated, on my view, David did in fact want the ark to be with him, nevertheless, he deemed a spy network to be more useful to him than the ark at that point.

Of note, David’s desire for God’s help is given emphasis by the irregular language in this verse. For instance, the verse begins with the words, ודוד הגיד לאמר and repeats the word אמר just before David says, סכל־נא את־עצת אחיתפל יהוה. The repetition of “David says”, etc. emphasizes the content of what David says, which in this instance may be translated as, “O Lord, I pray you, turn the counsel of my brother of folly59 into foolishness.”

6.1.15 2 Samuel 15:32–37

It is explicitly stated in 15:32 that David comes to the summit where God is worshipped and Hushai appears in a dishevelled state. In 15:33 David tells Hushai that if he goes with David he will only be a burden. In 15:34 David tells Hushai to return to Jerusalem, become Absalom’s servant, and defeat Ahithophel’s advice. In 15:35 David tells Hushai to relay whatever he hears from the king’s house to Zadok and Abiathar. In 15:36 David says that the sons of Zadok and Abiathar will relay everything that Hushai tells them to David. In 15:37 Hushai returns to the city as soon as Absalom returns. In 15:32 there is an apparent implication that David’s prayers to God are to be answered by means of Hushai; after all, Hushai appears to David at the summit where God is worshipped.60 However, this implication is only apparent, given that typically in the SN David’s prayers are not answered (2 Sam. 12:16–22). Indeed, God has promised to punish David rather than to answer his prayers.

Thereby, the idea that this passage is an exposition of the interface of divine favour and self-help must be debated further. Von Rad argues that the Davidic narratives are an example of double causation, whereby, political realism is combined with God’s plan.61 This is a popular interpretation. However, it is questionable since double causation requires that the action of each party would cause the outcome, irrespective of the action of the other party. This is not the case in this narrative if it is assumed that Hushai’s appearance was providential. In other words, David could not have achieved the outcome without God’s intervention. An alternative interpretation involves partial causation. In instances of partial causation, the action of each party is necessary but neither is sufficient. However, this account diminishes God’s power since God acting alone cannot achieve the outcome. This conundrum involving David, Hushai and God cannot be resolved at this point in the narrative. However, I return to this issue in the next chapter.

6.1.16 Summary of 2 Samuel 15:1–37

In 15:1 Absalom is depicted with a chariot, horses, and running men. This retinue implies that Absalom intends to challenge the throne, and may also be interpreted within God’s warning about kings in 1 Samuel 8:11, suggesting an insinuation. The insinuation in 15:1 is followed by pretended error or ignorance in 15:2–3. In this instance, Absalom remarks that there is nobody to hear the claims of the people of Israel, even though this is the king’s role. This gives rise to the insinuation, that Absalom thinks that he would be a better judge and therefore a better king than David. The criticism in this regard points in two different directions. David is implicitly criticized as he paves the way for Absalom’s revolt. Absalom is criticized for manipulating the situation.

15:4–6 present the insinuation that Absalom, like David is more concerned with garnering political power rather than dedicating himself to faith in Yahweh’s laws. Thereby, Absalom is similarly criticised for (potentially) being an opportunistic king. In 15:7–9 the irony is the pretended defence of the victim and an insinuation. In the first case, Absalom tricks David into allowing him to make a vow in Hebron. In the second case, the insinuation develops with an understanding of David’s history with Hebron, and of Absalom’s conviction that he is in God’s favour. 15:10 is a case of a misrepresentation as Absalom gets others to declare him to be king, despite the fact that David is the king. This verse points to Absalom’s deceptiveness, and his foolishness.

Absalom’s deceptiveness along with David’s obliviousness is further highlighted in 15:11 which is an example of the sub-category of verbal irony, pretended error or ignorance. The ironist implies that the two hundred guests who accompany Absalom to Hebron (where Absalom seeks to mount his challenge against David), do so with full knowledge of what they are doing. In 15:12 there is an insinuation that Absalom is sending for a war counsellor. Ahithophel’s connection to Bathsheba reminds the reader of David’s transgressions. Ahithophel’s current position emphasizes Absalom’s deceitfulness. Together, there is a suggestion that both ‘kings’ are not in Israel’s best interests. David cannot administer justice adequately, and Absalom is delusional. However, Israel wanted a king despite God’s protestations.62

15:13–17 is a case of low burlesque, where David is spoken of as being a low character. The irony criticizes the poor decisions that he makes. 15:18 is an example of parody which reflects on David’s time fighting with the Philistines. This section also hints at the idea of David’s past catching up with him. There are allusions to the sword, which bring to mind David’s transgressions, and his punishment. It may also be suggested that David is in some regards the instigator of part of his punishment, as he fails to administer justice correctly even after Nathan’s castigation, which in turn produces the antagonism in Absalom which was predicted by God.

15:19–20 are an example of the sub-category of impersonal irony, the rhetorical question. David appears to be generous to Ittai, however, David uses double-speak to protect his position. 15:21 includes an overstatement which highlights the politicking which had become a staple of David’s communication. 15:21–22 is an example of overstatement. 15:23 uses irony displayed to emphasize David’s new status in exile.

15:24–29 is an example of a rhetorical question. In this case David’s new-found situation in exile and Absalom’s growth in popularity in Jerusalem are striking, as is David’s decision to dismiss the ark. In 15:27–29 it appears that David is cynical about traditions as a rhetorical question emphasizes the incongruity of David sending the ark back in the hope that the priests attending to it will become his spies. In this regard the ark is used as a cover-story. In 15:30 there is no evidence of irony, however, the mourning in the verse alludes to David’s major transgressions.

15:31 confirms the irony in 15:25–26; in 15:31 David speaks of trust in God’s decision, yet, organizes a spy system. This section is followed by 15:32–37. However, 15: 32–37 is somewhat inconclusive in relation to findings of irony.

6.2 2 Samuel 16:1–23

6.2.1 2 Samuel 16:1

At the lower level of the narrative Ziba is bringing supplies to David and doing so—we know from background knowledge—in the context of David fleeing from Absalom. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that there is an incongruity in this setting. Here we need to rely on additional background knowledge of the characters. It is not necessarily incongruous in itself that a king is fleeing from an uprising nor is it incongruous that a fleeing king is met by a servant who brings supplies. Yet, it is incongruous for a father to be fleeing from his own son. It is doubly incongruous for a father who has been told that he is God’s chosen king (2 Sam. 12:7) to be fleeing from his son who also believes God to be on his side (2 Sam. 15:8). Furthermore, it is incongruous that David is met with supplies by Ziba in particular. For Ziba was previously the servant of Saul (2 Sam. 9:2) whom David usurped (2 Sam. 5:2–3).

The unknowing innocence in the narrative arises from the ironist’s dissimulation. In 16:1 there is a seemingly innocuous encounter between David and Ziba at the lower level. However, in the context of our background knowledge—that David is fleeing from Absalom when he meets Ziba the former servant of Saul—there is a far from innocuous implication at the upper level. At the upper level the tenuous nature of the monarchy, the dilemma of chosen-ness, and David’s decline are all highlighted.

The irony is not immediately obvious, and is therefore a covert grade of verbal irony. Moreover, the verbal irony is emphasised by the unusual use of language and in particular in the use of an unsuitable metaphor. In this case the metaphor is ‪מהראשׁ‬.63 Polzin suggests that references to ראשׁ64 are both symbolic and ironic. The symbolism concerns the connection between a head and a political leader. According to Polzin the irony is that David is not the ‘head’ of Israel at this stage, as he is fleeing from Jerusalem.65 This interpretation is in keeping with the present analysis in terms of verbal irony. The significance of מהראשׁ also arises from our knowledge that David has now made his way into Saulide territory.66 This places David into the area of the king he usurped, and further highlights the instability of the monarchy in general.

The mode of verbal irony is impersonal irony, and the sub-category of irony is irony displayed. In this sub-category of impersonal irony the irony emerges from the events which expose the object of ironic attack.67 The close confrontation of incompatibles which is necessary for irony displayed can be observed in the King of Israel fleeing from his son, who also believes he is the King of Israel, and encountering the servant of the King of Israel, whom David usurped. The content of irony, as mentioned, is the instability in the institution of the monarchy.

6.2.2 2 Samuel 16:2

At the lower level of 16:2 there is David’s question to Ziba: ‪מה־אלה לך‬.68 This question is asked by David in the context of Ziba having offered supplies to David in 16:1. So at the lower level of 16.2 David is asking Ziba for information that they both know David already has. After all, it is obvious that Ziba is offering supplies of food, wine etc. At the upper level of the narrative the question asked by David, the King, has a political implication the content of which is not entirely clear. Why is Ziba providing these supplies? Why is Ziba doing David this favour? Is it in fact a favour? Are there strings attached? So, it is a rhetorical question with political implications, albeit unclear ones. I note that the supplies are not for Ziba to give,69 and it can be assumed that David wants to know who is behind the gift. In short, the knowledge of this relationship strengthens the assumption that David’s question was political in nature. The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what David says and what David means.

At the lower level Ziba takes the question in its literal sense and, thereby, either chooses to ignore its implications or is blissfully unaware of them. Ziba’s innocence, whether it be real or feigned, is emphasized in the comedy of Ziba’s exaggerated response to David’s question. Ziba’s response outlines in detail that the donkeys are to be ridden, the food is to be eaten, and the wine is to be drunk. The question now arises as to whether Ziba’s response is either feigned or merely naive. For Ziba may have understood the implication behind David’s question and, therefore, responded as he did to avoid explicitly stating that his intention was to gain favour with the king. If this is the case then Ziba far from being naïve is a crafty operator. The proposition that Ziba is a crafty operator is supported by 16:4 in which we learn that David grants Ziba another man’s estate.

The irony in this verse emerges in the context of our background knowledge taken in conjunction with the outcome of this interaction between David and Ziba. For, as discussed below, David is about to be tricked by Ziba into granting to Ziba, the estate of Ziba’s master, Mephiboseth. Accordingly, the formerly celebrated and supposedly astute King David is about to be conned by a mere servant. Moreover, David had formerly transferred the servant Ziba from Saul, the king who David usurped, to Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9:9–10). If David had not done so, Ziba would not have been in a position to trick David into transferring Mephibosheth’s estate to Ziba. This is an instance of verbal irony. The grade of verbal irony is covert as it is not immediately apparent.

6.2.3 2 Samuel 16:3

At the lower level of 16:3 David asks Ziba where his master is. At the upper level, the ironist implies that David’s real interest is in the loyalty of Mephibosheth. Therefore, this is a rhetorical question and the opposition between the upper and lower levels consists of the incongruity between an explicit question about geographical location and an implicit one about political affiliation.

At the lower level of 16:3 Ziba replies to David that his master is in Jerusalem declaring that Jerusalem will be returned to the House of Saul. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Ziba’s interest is in winning David’s favour since Ziba not only tells David the location of his master but also provides intelligence about his master’s political loyalties. This indicates that Ziba, far from being naïve is a crafty operator who is well aware of the intention behind David’s rhetorical question. This view is confirmed by later events, notably, when David gives Mephibosheth’s estate to Ziba.

The view that this dialogue is ironic political discourse is indicated by the language in the narrative, and in particular in the pointed use of the word מלך. In 16:2 the ‘king’ speaks to Ziba, in 16:3 the king speaks and it is written that Ziba answers to the ‘king.’ This linguistic usage is distinct from the preceding verses where the king is referred to primarily as David (2 Sam. 15:32–16:1). If this is indeed irony then it is verbal irony in the impersonal mode since the ironist is not a character in the narrative. The sub-category is the rhetorical question.

6.2.4 2 Samuel 16:4

At the lower level of 16:4 David gives Ziba Mephibosheth’s estate, and Ziba does obeisance to David. At the upper level the ironist implies that the reason David is giving Mephibosheth’s estate to Ziba is that Ziba informed David of Mephibosheth’s betrayal of David—the latter being a matter of our background knowledge. Nevertheless, David’s act of giving of the estate to Ziba is surprising since David does not adjudicate the case with witnesses, as he should. It is even more surprising given David’s history with Mephibosheth. Previously, David had given everything that belonged to Saul to Mephibosheth, ostensibly, in order to pay חסד to Jonathan (2 Sam. 9:7), Mephibosheth’s father. Note, I otherwise argue that David’s act of ‘hesed’ to Mephibosheth is in fact a self-serving political move. In this verse, it would appear that Mephibosheth is exploited by the king and by Ziba, the servant the king appointed to look after Mephibosheth in order to honour David’s covenant with Jonathan.

Alter observes that it is unlikely that Mephibosheth could have come to David himself, as he was crippled in both of his feet and this disability was known to David.70 This gives Ziba an opportunity to act on his own behalf. Stuart Lasine argues that David acts in haste, and suggests that it was likely that Ziba was lying.71 Fokkelman also remarks that Ziba’s statement is false and a betrayal of Mephibosheth.72 Auld claims that Ziba is rewarded for lying.73 Mauchline suggests that David is a fool for believing Ziba.74

Therefore, it is likely that Ziba is lying. This is supported by future events, specifically, in 2 Samuel 19–26 where Mephibosheth says that Ziba deceived him. Moreover, even if Ziba was not lying and Mephibosheth was disloyal to David, it can still be argued that David did not give Mephibosheth a fair trial as he should have. However, it is more credible that Ziba was lying to David in order to find favour with the king. This whole episode is yet another example of David being easily deceived and making foolish judgements. As with the other examples, this is an instance of the sub-category of impersonal irony, pretended defence of the victim. At first blush David is the unfortunate victim of Ziba’s deception. However, the ironist implies that he ought not to have been deceived. The upshot is that David is the object of ironic attack.

6.2.5 2 Samuel 16:5–6

At the lower level of 16:5 Shimei, a supporter of Saul, curses David at the location known as בחורים that can be translated to mean ‘chosen.’75 At the lower level of 16:6 Shimei throws stones at David and his army. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David, the “chosen” king, is an exile being cursed and that David is not the heroic king that he is otherwise portrayed to be. The opposition between the levels arises from the incongruity between David being a cursed exiled king and David being the chosen king. A further incongruity is as follows. On the one hand, David was Saul’s and Israel’s champion because he killed the Philistine warrior Goliath with a single stone (1 Sam. 17:49). On the other hand, David, is now fleeing Israel in the company of mercenaries (who went with David to fight with the Philistines (1 Sam. 27:1–3, 2 Sam. 15:18)76) while a single Saulide pelts them all with stones. David is the object of the ironic attack, and possibly also the unknowing victim of the irony.

The grade of verbal irony is covert, as it is not immediately apparent. The ironic content is communicated in large part by our background knowledge but also to some extent by the language used. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal irony. The dominant sub-category is parody. The episode being parodied is David’s encounter with Goliath (1 Sam. 17).

The parody begins in 16:5 with the curse linking this story with the story of David and Goliath. Like Goliath’s curse, Shimei’s curse is by-and-large ineffective, however, the parallel of the curses brings forth the parody. In 1 Samuel 17:43 it is a Philistine who curses David—David being Saul’s champion. In 16:5, a Saulide curses David—David being the ‘leader of Philistines’, at least in the sense that David’s army comprises soldiers who previously fought with David on behalf of the Philistines.

In the story of David and Goliath David was portrayed as a hero when he hurled a single, well-aimed stone at the forehead of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:49). In 16:6, David is the object of ironic attack since him and his entire army are pelted with stones by a lone ‘heroic’ individual.77 This parody of David can be understood in two different ways: (1) that David was never heroic, and that earlier accounts of David’s heroics are inaccurate, or (2) that David was once heroic but has ceased to be so.

6.2.6 2 Samuel 16:7–8

At the lower level of 16:7–8 Shimei78 shouts at David that he is a murderer who is responsible for murder in the House of Saul and for usurping the throne. Shimei shouts that this is why the Lord has given his kingdom into the hands of Absalom. Contrary to what Shimei claims, the narrative presents the taking of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah as the reason for David’s predicament (2 Sam. 12:10–11). Therefore, there is an element of Shimei’s curse which is incorrect. However, consistent with Shimei’s curse, albeit contrary to the legend of David’s rise (1 Sam. 31:4–6; 2 Sam. 3:30–32; 4:8), it could still be the case that David usurped Saul’s throne and was implicated in the murders of members of the House of Saul. The opposition in this section is the difference between what is said and what is implied. At the lower level Shimei says that David is being punished for his part in the Saulide’s deaths, yet it is known that David is being punished for his part in Uriah’s death. At the upper level, it is implied that David was implicated in the Saulide deaths, and that he was not punished for his part in these deaths. Indeed, he is explicitly and strenuously defended against such an accusation (1 Sam. 31:4–6; 2 Sam 3:30–32; 4:8).

Moreover, as we have seen above, the ironist has been utilising Shimei to parody the legend of David’s rise. Arguably, therefore, the ironist is implying that Shimei is correct in claiming that David usurped Saul’s throne, notwithstanding the reader’s initial contrary impression. So, the verse is an instance of innuendo and David is the object of ironic attack. The verbal irony is covert since it is not immediately apparent, indeed it could well be contested. The verbal irony is heavily reliant on background knowledge and the mode of verbal irony is impersonal irony.

The claim that David may have been involved in the murders in the House of Saul is supported by the untrustworthiness of David’s character, and has been noted by a number of different scholars. Alter alludes to it when he writes:

The blood that, according to the narrative itself, David has on his hands, is that of Uriah the Hittite, and the fighting men of Israel who perished at Rabbath Ammon with Uriah. But the Benjaminite Shimei clearly believes what David himself, and the narrative with him, has taken pains to refute—that the blood of the house of Saul is on David’s hands: Abner, Ish-bosheth, and perhaps even Saul and Jonathan (for David was collaborating with the Philistine Achish when they fell at Gilboa). Hence the phrase Shimei hurls at David in his next sentence, “all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you became king,” suggesting a conjunction of murder and usurpation.79

Campbell is more forthright when he argues that this section highlights David’s ruthless ambition which has caught up with him.80

However, whether or not David is responsible for the killing of the Saulides, it still stands that Shimei is unaware that David is responsible for Uriah’s death, and that Uriah’s death, in as much as it is the reason for God’s punishment of David, is partly responsible for Absalom’s revolt (2 Sam. 12:10–11). Shimei’s ignorance of the Uriah event, and his confident, but incorrect (albeit unknowingly consistent) remark make him an unknowing victim of the verbal irony.

6.2.7 2 Samuel 16:9

At the lower level of 16:9 Abishai asks why Shimei should be allowed to curse David. This is obviously a rhetorical question since it is well-known that it is a crime to curse the king and, therefore, subject to severe punishment. This confirms that his question was purely rhetorical. Moreover, the implication of this question is that he actually has in mind to kill Shimei. Therefore, at the lower level Abishai is implying that Shimei should not be allowed to curse the king. At the upper level, Abishai implies that he should be allowed to kill Shimei. In respect of the rhetorical question, the opposition in the levels is between Abishai saying one thing, while he means another thing.

David is the object of ironic attack since as the king he cannot allow someone to curse him with impunity. Yet it appears only Abishai and not David is aware of this. The grade of the verbal irony is overt, as it is immediately apparent. This assumption is supported by Abishai’s reference to Shimei as a dead dog, and by his follow-up statement:

אעברה־נא ואסירה את־ראשׁו

(Please let me go over and take off his head!)81

Furthermore, Abishai’s remark is in keeping with the laws. In Exod 22:28 it states:

אלהים לא תפלל ונשׂיא בעמך לא תאר

(You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people).82

Not only is this law a prohibition against cursing a king, but the strength of the commandment may be assessed in its connection with the prohibition not to revile Yahweh. This leads Simpson to suggest that Abishai is not acting recklessly, but is rather sticking to the Torah tradition and aligning himself with God.83 Thereby, the criticism emerges that David has not acted according to the laws. This strengthens the above criticism that he was not acting with appropriate kingly authority.

6.2.8 2 Samuel 16:10

At the lower level of 16:10a David responds to Abishai’s proposal to kill Shimei. David asks: “What have I to do with you, sons of Zeruiah”. I note that Joab, Asahel and Abishai himself are the sons of Zeruiah. In 16:10b David suggests to Abishai that it is possible that Shimei is cursing him because the Lord has told him to do so. If so, David now asks who should challenge Shimei. Both of these questions are rhetorical. At the upper level of 16:10a the ironist implies that although David is asking what he should do with the sons of Zeruiah, the implicit message is that David would like to distance himself from the violence of the sons of Zeruiah; or, at least, he would like to do so in public. This implication is strengthened by David’s apparently placatory question in relation to Shimei’s cursing of him. I note that there are laws which prohibit people from cursing the king (Exod. 22:28). Therefore, not only is it entirely unlikely that God has caused Shimei to curse David, but David would need very good evidence for making this claim. On the other hand, David’s knowledge of his own transgressions might provide him with a justification for thinking that the Lord did in fact tell Shimei to curse him.

The opposition in the narrative emerges in the incompatibility between what David says and with what David means. The grade of verbal irony is covert as it is not immediately apprehended. The ironic content is conveyed by the use of the rhetorical questions together with our background knowledge. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal, and the sub-category rhetorical question.

The first rhetorical question that David uses to respond to Abishai is as follows:

מה־לי ולכם בני צריה

(What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah?)84

In asking this question David appears to distance himself from the sons of Zeruiah, who, in the past have been described by David as being difficult (2 Sam. 3:39). This has led scholars to look favourably upon David, as it appears that he is not as bloodthirsty as the sons of Zeruiah,85 or that he is calm and in control.86 However, this interpretation ignores David’s propensity for violence and retaliation when it suits him.

Moreover, it also ignores the fact that the sons of Zeruiah are part of David’s trusted army. It may even be argued that the violence that David deplored in the case of Abner’s death by the hand of Joab furthered David’s interest (2 Sam. 3:25) since Abner was Saul’s cousin and commander in chief of Saul’s army (1 Sam. 14:50, 20:25). In some respects David’s response to Abishai goes towards confirming this. For example, David says in 16:10:

כי (כה) יקלל וכי (כי) יהוה אמר לו קלל את־דוד ומי יאמר מדוע עשׂיתה כן

(If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, “Curse David”, who then shall say, “Why have you done so?”)87

David’s response to the cursing is revealing. Anderson argues that David’s reply may go towards implicating him in the Saulide murders.88 As we saw above, David is seeking to distance himself from Abishai’s violent disposition and David is being uncharacteristically, indeed culpably, placatory in respect of Shimei’s cursing of him. This is understandable if David knows that Shimei’s accusation is correct.

Moreover, this act of distancing himself from his crimes, presumably in order to avoid bloodguilt, is but one instance of a pattern in David’s behaviour. Consider the death of Uriah (2 Sam. 12:9). This murder was not a direct killing by David, but an execution which was carried out on David’s orders by another one of Zeruiah’s sons, namely, Joab (2 Sam. 11:14–15). It may then be argued that it was always possible for David to keep himself free from the guilt of bloodshed, as he surrounded himself with people who were happy to take this on for him.89

6.2.9 2 Samuel 16:11–12

These verses do not appear to be ironic. However, a commentary is still in order. In 16:11–12 David tells Abishai to leave Shimei alone and offers the following explanation. David’s own son Absalom seeks David’s life. Therefore, it is not surprising that Shimei, a Benjamite and a Saulide, seeks David’s life. Moreover, David says that the Lord has bidden Shimei to curse David (16:11). David also suggests that the Lord will look upon David’s distress, on account of the curse, and repay David with good. This speech of David seems to implicate him in the murders of members of the House of Saul and the usurping of Saul’s throne. After all, David says Shimei has reason to want to curse him and is doing so at the bidding of God.

In relation to 16:5–14, Brueggemann suggests that David’s faith revolutionises the understanding of God’s grace. Brueggemann argues that David knows that he has done wrong and that David expects to be punished for what he has done, however, he hopes for God’s mercy. Thereby, David attributes a freedom to God. This freedom to act Brueggemann considers to be evidence of God’s grace.90 However, Brueggemann’s impression of David can be countered. As we have seen, there is reason to think that David was involved in the deaths of the Saulides to a greater extent than the story of David’s rise portrays. It also must be pointed out that David is ultimately ‘unkind’ to Shimei in 1 Kings 2:8–9 when he orders his execution on account of this cursing of David.

6.2.10 2 Samuel 16:13–14

The parody of David (as the heroic warrior) in the story of Shimei is continued in these verses. So, the sub-category of verbal irony, parody, is applicable here.

At the lower level of 16:13–14 David and his men march on as Shimei proceeds on the hillside opposite them throwing stones and flinging dust at them and cursing David. In 16:14 David and his men arrive at their destination tired. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David and his men are tired in large part because of their treatment at the hands of Shimei.

6.2.11 2 Samuel 16:15–16

At the lower level of 16:15 Absalom and all the Israelites, including Ahithophel, come to Jerusalem. In 16:16 Hushai comes to Absalom and repeats, יהי המלך יהי המלך. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Hushai remains loyal to David (2 Sam. 15:32–37) and is referring to David rather than Absalom in saying, “Long live the king”. The opposition in the narrative is between what Hushai says and what Hushai means.91 It can be inferred that Hushai intends for Absalom to believe that he is speaking about Absalom, when it can reasonably be assumed he is referring to David. So, Absalom is the object of ironic attack. If Absalom believes that Hushai is referring to him, then perhaps he is also the unknowing victim of irony. The grade of verbal irony is covert as it needs to be uncovered by way of background information. For instance, 2 Samuel 15:37 informs the reader that Hushai is David’s friend, which is repeated in verse 16:16 where it is written:

ויהי כאשׁר־בא הושׁי הארכי רעה דוד

(And so it was, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came …)92

The mode of verbal irony is impersonal, and the sub-category is pretended agreement with the victim, since Hushai pretends to be on Absalom’s side, whilst the implication is that he is not.

6.2.12 2 Samuel 16:17

At the lower level in 16:17 Absalom asks Hushai if this is the loyalty he shows to his friend (namely, David), and asks him also why he did not go with his friend. At the upper level Absalom is implying that Hushai’s friend is David and is, therefore, also implying that Hushai is still loyal to David. So Hushai is the object of ironic attack. Moreover, we can conclude from this that Absalom was not the unknowing victim of irony above (when Hushai was saying “Long live the king”). Further these questions are rhetorical questions and so the opposition in the narrative is between what Absalom says and what he means. The implied criticism of Hushai by Absalom in this verse is heightened by the pairing of the words רע and ‪חסד‬,93 and the repetition of the word רע in 16:17b. Thereby, it is unlikely that Hushai will mistake the implied meaning of Absalom’s words. So, the irony is overt.

6.2.13 2 Samuel 16:18–19

At the lower level of 16:18 Hushai states to Absalom that he is loyal to the person who Yahweh and the Israelites have chosen. In 16:19 Hushai asks two questions: (1) Who should I serve? and; (2) Should it not be his son? In 16:19 Hushai says that he should serve Absalom just as he has served David. It can be assumed that Absalom, if he is the unknowing victim of the irony, would imagine that Hushai would be speaking of him when he talks of the person that Yahweh and the Israelites have chosen. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies, indeed insinuates, that Hushai is still loyal to David and, therefore, that this statement does not refer to Absalom. So, the opposition in the narrative is between what Hushai says and what he means.

The grade of verbal irony is covert and it relies on background knowledge and the language used, specifically, ambiguous words. As far as the background knowledge is concerned, the narrative does not express Absalom’s view (presumably) that Yahweh was on Absalom’s side. Instead, there is evidence that Absalom has misinterpreted God’s role, or the lack of God’s hand, in Absalom’s situation (2 Sam. 15:8). Furthermore, instead of there being any evidence that the people chose Absalom, there is only evidence that Absalom “stole their hearts” (2 Sam. 15:6). David is still the one that Yahweh and the people of Israel chose. This supports the proposition that Hushai is referring to David when he says that he is loyal to the person that Yahweh and the people of Israel have chosen.

In the above verses there are two rhetorical questions asked by Hushai and there is an insinuation arising from Hushai’s statement that he is loyal to the person that Yahweh and the people of Israel have chosen. We have discussed the insinuation. The rhetorical questions are found in 16:19:

והשׁנית למי אני אעבד הלוא לפני בנו

(And again, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son?)94

The opposition in this verse is between what Hushai says and what Hushai means. The question ‘Who should I serve?’ is not an inquiry. Instead, Hushai knows who he serves, namely, David. The question, ‘Should it not be his son?’ taken as a rhetorical question with ironic content, implied that Hushai should not serve David’s son.

6.2.14 2 Samuel 16:20–23

At the lower level of 16:20–23 Absalom asks Ahithophel for his counsel. Ahithophel tells Absalom to go to David’s concubines. Absalom takes David’s concubines on the roof of the palace in full view of all of Israel. The narrator says that Ahithophel’s counsel was as though he had consulted the word of God. At the upper level the ironist implies that Ahithophel’s counsel was not like the word of God. The opposition in the narrative is between what is said and what is meant. Ahithophel is said to be giving advice as if he had consulted the word of God, however, Ahithophel’s advice is contrary to God’s laws. In effect, Ahithophel advises Absalom to commit treason, and sexual crimes. Ironically, the content of Ahithophel’s counsel is contrary to God’s laws, notwithstanding that he is said to have provided advice as if he had consulted the word of God.

However, there is a second irony. Ironically, although Ahithophel’s advice is against God’s laws it is actually in keeping with God’s promised punishment of David (12:11). Both ironies are covert and depend on background knowledge of the text.

In the case of the first irony, Ahithophel’s advice is sound in as much as taking the king’s concubines is a challenge to the throne.95 Thereby, this act would not only sever the relationship that Absalom had with his father, but it would also convince Israel that there is no chance of a further reconciliation between Absalom and David. Yet, as mentioned, contrary to God’s laws Ahithophel advises Absalom to commit treason, adultery and rape.96

The irony is impersonal as the ironist is not a character in the story, and the sub-category is inappropriate or irrelevant praise. Ahithophel’s advice was not as if he had consulted the word of God. For it was contrary to God’s laws.

Let me now consider the second irony. In 2 Samuel 12:11–12, God states:

כה אמר יהוה הנני מקים עליך רעה מביתך ולקחתי את־נשׁיך לעיניך ונתתי לרעיך ושׁכב עם־נשׁיך

יניעל שׁמשׁה דגנו לארשׂי־לכ דגנ הזה רבדה־תא השׂעא ינאו רתסב תישׂע התא יכ תאזה שׁמשׁה

(Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun).97

This suggests that God had preordained Absalom’s public raping of David’s concubines; after all, this event is in essence a fulfilment of God’s promised punishment of David. However, there is a hitch. Absalom is breaking a law by having sexual intercourse with his father’s concubines and, more importantly, committing treason by challenging the throne of David. Moreover, Ahithophel is implicated as a co-conspirator. Ironically, therefore, if this punishment is wholly dependent on God, then apparently God is pleased to contravene God’s own laws!

However, David had already abandoned the concubines (15:16) that Absalom rapes and, as previously argued, in doing so is the architect of his own punishment by God. Of course, God inflicts his punishment on David through the actions of Absalom. However, like David, Absalom is the author of his own actions, likewise, his co-conspirator, Ahithophel. So, David, Absalom and Ahithophel are all culpable for breaking God’s laws and, presumably, therefore, cannot absolve themselves by ascribing responsibility for their actions to God.

6.2.15 Summary of 2 Samuel 16:1–23

In 16:1 the sub-category of impersonal irony, irony displayed, points to instability in the monarchy. In 16:2 and 16:3 rhetorical questions highlight political manipulations. In 16:4 an example of pretended defence of the victim portrays David as a fool. In 16:5–6 David’s lack of heroics emerges in the parody in the verse. In 16:7–8 there is an innuendo that David is ultimately responsible for a number of Saulide deaths. In 16:9 David’s failure to act according to the laws is implicitly criticized in a rhetorical question. 16:10 stresses by way of another rhetorical question David’s inability to recognise and then administer the laws. There is no irony in 16:11–12. In 16:13–14 David’s heroic image is parodied. In 16:16 the irony that portrays Absalom as a fool is pretended agreement with the victim. In 16:17 there is a rhetorical question and an insinuation that Hushai is not Absalom’s friend. In 16:18–19, yet again, the confusion over the rightful monarchy emerges by way of rhetorical questions. In 16:20–23, the rhetorical feature, inappropriate or irrelevant praise, enables the implication that Ahithophel’s advice is not like the word of God.

6.3 2 Samuel 17

6.3.1 2 Samuel 17:1–4

This section does not readily show forth irony, however, it is important to give a commentary as it aids the interpretation of irony in past and future sections.

Most scholars agree that the advice that Ahithophel gives to Absalom is good advice if he is to win the battle.98 His advice to Absalom is that he, Ahithophel, gather an army of twelve thousand men and set out immediately while David and David’s army are tired. Ahithophel predicts that David’s army will panic and flee leaving David alone to be killed. An army of twelve thousand men would be a formidable force against David and his soldiers, especially if they were tired and unprepared for the confrontation. It is also good advice to restrict the casualties of war, as Ahithophel suggests (17:2). However, Ahithophel’s advice that Absalom stay removed from the battle is problematic, given Israel’s expectation of her kings (1 Sam. 8:20; 18:16; 2 Sam. 5:2–3). At this stage of the narrative this does not seem to be appreciated by Absalom and the elders of Israel for they say that they are pleased with Ahithophel’s advice (17:4).99

In short, the advice that Ahithophel gives Absalom is not good advice, assuming Absalom is to remain with honour in the eyes of the people of Israel. However, it is good tactical advice in terms of overcoming David and his army. Of note, the ‘good’ advice which Ahithophel gives to Absalom is the same military tactic that David used in 2 Samuel 11:1. The problem of David failing to lead his army into battle has already been discussed in chapter 3 of this book. This includes the criticism of David in 2 Samuel 11:27–28 where in the final stages of the battle Joab tells David to join the war and to take Rabbah. Indeed, perhaps Ahithophel counselled David to take the action he took in 2 Samuel 11:1, given Ahithophel was David’s counsellor at the time.100

6.3.2 2 Samuel 17:5–7

At the lower level of the narrative Absalom calls Hushai (17:5), and tells him the plan that Ahithophel has put forth. Absalom then asks Hushai what he thinks of Ahithophel’s plan (17:6). Hushai tells Absalom that Ahithophel’s advice is not good advice (17:7). At the upper level of the narrative the ironist is aware that the advice that Ahithophel gives Absalom is tactically good advice, yet poor advice as far as the expectations of the Israelites are concerned. Therefore, if Hushai is to counter this advice (2 Sam. 15:34), he must give poor tactical military advice, and good advice regarding honourable fighting, in order to frustrate Ahithophel’s plan.101

The opposition in the narrative is the incongruity between the need for Hushai to give Absalom good advice (i.e. to act honourably in the eyes of the Israelites (1 Sam. 8:20; 18:16; 2 Sam. 5:2–3)),102 when Hushai’s goal is to counter-act Ahithophel’s good advice (i.e. with respect to Ahithophel’s military tactics). So ironically, Hushai must give good advice to undermine good advice. Furthermore, Ahithophel is an object of ironic attack since he is advising Absalom to act in a manner that the people of Israel will regard as dishonourable. Yet Hushai is also an object of ironic attack since he is advising Absalom to act in a manner that the people of Israel will regard as honourable. Both Ahithophel and Hushai are the unknowing victims of irony. For in both cases they are confidently unaware that their advice is ironic. Of note, the issue of David failing to lead his army into battle has been a major source of criticism of David throughout this narrative. Hence the importance of this issue in the above episode in 17:5–7.

The grade of verbal irony is covert and is conveyed with reference to the overall narrative context. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal as the ironist is not a character in the narrative, and the sub-category of impersonal irony is irony displayed, as the arrangement of the events brings forth the irony.103

6.3.3 2 Samuel 17:8–13

At the lower level of 17:8–13 Hushai explains his plan to Absalom. Hushai argues that David will not spend the evening with the soldiers (17:8), that David is hidden, and that fear could set into Absalom’s army at the fall of their first troops (17:9). Hushai also reminds Absalom that David and his soldiers are fierce fighters (17:10). Hushai advises Absalom to go into battle himself with a much larger army, an army it will take some time to amass (17:11).

At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David is not as heroic as he is otherwise portrayed by Hushai. The opposition in the narrative concerns the content of Hushai’s overstated and outdated appraisal of David with his current situation as a corrupt and incompetent king who has been driven out of his kingdom. Of note, David and his army are spoken of in exaggerated terms.104 Furthermore, the content of Hushai’s message is overstated. Hushai creates an image of David as a warrior. This is in stark contrast to the image of David in chapter 11 and 12, when David does not go out to war until he is called to capture a city at the end of difficult fighting (2 Sam. 11:1, 12:27–28).

As far as the portrayal of David is concerned, a number of unusual words are used as similes to contrast David’s past as a warrior with his present situation. For instance, the unusual word מר105 (2 Sam. 17:8) is also used in 1 Samuel 22:2, where David becomes the captain over a group of fugitives. Similarly, the unusual word דב106 (2 Sam. 17:8) is used in 1 Samuel 17:36, where David boasts that he has killed a lion and a bear, and that Goliath would meet the same fate. The unusual wording אישׁ מלחמה107 (1 Sam. 16:18) is also in 2 Samuel 17:8. Similarly, the mention of hiding (17:9) hints at David’s battle with Saul (1 Sam. 26:1).108 On this subject, Bar-Efrat writes, “Hushai may be referring associatively to the heroic period when David showed quite clearly that he had both courage and initiative and was able to prevail in difficult and highly dangerous situations.”109 By contrast Park is more cynical when he argues, “Hushai’s rhetoric serves to evoke images of a different David of a bygone era—not the weary, lusty, old king who stays at home to seduce another man’s wife, but the mighty and cunning warrior who wrestled the throne from Saul.”110 Either way, it is clear that Hushai’s current somewhat glowing appraisal of David is overstated.

6.3.4 2 Samuel 17:14–22

At the lower level of 17:14–22, in general terms, Hushai’s advice, rather than Ahithophel’s advice, is taken by Absalom (17:14). In 17:14 Absalom and all of the men of Israel say that Hushai’s advice is better than Ahithophel’s advice. It is also written that Ahithophel’s good advice was defeated by the Lord so that Absalom would be destroyed (17:14). Hushai relays the content of both Ahithophel’s counsel and his own to David via the spies, Zadok and Abiathar (17:15–21), David acts on this information and leaves his vulnerable location immediately (17:22). At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that the real boon for Hushai, and ultimately for David, was Absalom’s foolishness in making Ahithophel’s plan known to Hushai (17:6) who in turn informed David via the spy network. This undermines the prevailing view among commentators that God defeating the counsel of Ahithophel brought about Absalom’s demise. This latter view relies on the background information in 5:31 where David says, “O Lord, I pray you, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” In 17:14 it would appear that God is answering David’s prayers. However, as explained above, Absalom is the architect of his demise by virtue of his foolishness in informing Hushai of Ahithophel’s counsel of war. More specifically, Ahithophel advises Absalom to immediately go and ambush David. However, an ambush relies on catching the enemy off-guard. But due to Absalom’s foolishness in informing Hushai of this plan, David was forewarned and made his escape. Therefore, regardless of whether Absalom accepted Ahithophel’s tactical military advice or not, Absalom was unable to act on it.

It might be argued that Absalom’s assent to Hushai’s plan in Hushai’s presence was insincere. Verse 16:17, for example, strongly suggests that Absalom did not trust Hushai. So, it is possible that Absalom said he would act on Hushai’s plan in order to deceive Hushai. Hushai certainly does not take Absalom’s assent to his plan as necessarily sincere. For Hushai informs David of Ahithophel’s counsel as well as his own. Accordingly, Hushai provides for all possibilities, i.e. for the possibility that Absalom will act on Ahithophel’s military plan, for the possibility that Absalom will act on Hushai’s plan, and for the possibility that Absalom will act on a combination of the advice given to him by Ahithophel and Hushai.

Ironically, then, Absalom is the architect of his own demise and, as such, the object of ironic attack. He is also the unknowing victim of irony since he is confidently unaware of the threat he poses to himself. The grade of verbal irony is covert and the mode is impersonal. The sub-category is irony displayed as the irony is displayed in the sequence of events.

6.3.5 2 Samuel 17:23

There is no apparent irony in 17:23. Ahithophel sees that his advice has not been followed and travels to his home city, puts his affairs in order, and commits suicide. It has already been noted that the tactical military advice that Ahithophel gave to Absalom was the best advice for Absalom to succeed in battle, however, Ahithophel’s advice to Absalom not to lead his army into battle was not good advice as far as the expectations that the Israelites had for their leaders is concerned. It must also be noted that Ahithophel’s ‘wise’ advice was an act of high treason,111 as he advised Absalom to implement a subversive plan to kill the true King of Israel.

Of note, it may be suggested that the narrative which has focused strongly on the rightful king to sit over Israel, may be alluding to Saul’s suicide in this passage (1 Sam. 31:4).

6.3.6 2 Samuel 17:24–29

There is no apparent irony in the following verses. However, a brief commentary may be helpful to put the rest of the narrative in perspective.

In 17:24 it is reported that David has moved to Mahanaim while Absalom has settled in Gilead with all of the men of Israel. There Absalom gives to Amasa Joab’s role as captain of the army (17:25). Meanwhile, Shobi, Machir, Barzillai bring supplies for David and his men. The supplies allow David and his men to restore their energy, and the break allows them to regroup. Therefore, it would appear that Ahithophel’s tactical military advice was the correct advice to win the battle. Indeed, Ahithophel had warned Absalom that David and his army would be tired and weary. This is confirmed in verse 17:29:

העם רעב ועיף וצמא במדבר

(The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness).112

6.3.7 Summary of 2 Samuel 17:1–28

There is no apparent irony in 17:1–4. In 17:5–7 Hushai seeks to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice, and in doing so gives Absalom advice which is poor tactical advice but good advice regarding honour in fighting. The type of irony in this section is irony displayed. In 17:8–13 Hushai gives Absalom his counsel. This advice ends up being poor tactical advice, and good advice if Absalom is going to lead his men out to war according to the expectations of Israel. The verbal irony in this section is pretended advice to the victim. In 17:14–22 a case of irony displayed illustrates that Absalom is a fool for letting Hushai know Ahithophel’s counsel. There is no further discernible verbal irony in this chapter.

6.4 2 Samuel 18:1–18:33/19:1

6.4.1 2 Samuel 18:1–2a

At the lower level of 18:1–2a David organises his troops and appoints captains to lead thousands and captains to lead hundreds (18:1). In 18:2 it is reported that David divides his army so that it is under the joint control of Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David’s decision to appoint Joab and Abishai as captains is a poor one. For in Exodus 18:21, and Deutereonomy 1:15, it is said that only honourable men should be given leadership positions. Yet ironically Joab and Abishai, who David appoints to lead the hundreds and thousands are men of questionable character. The opposition in this narrative arises from the incompatibility between the conception of wise and upstanding men leading others (Exod. 18:21, Deut. 1:15) and David’s choice of Joab and Abishai to be his leaders (18:2). David is the object of ironic attack since he makes these appointments. The grade of verbal irony is covert and the ironic content is implied by the use of the language and our background knowledge of the narrative. In all three verses (18:1–2a, in Exod. 18:21 and Deut. 1:15–18) the same language is used. The words which are common to all three verses are:

שׂרי אלפים ושׂרי מאות

(captains of thousands and captains of hundreds)113

Arguably, there is an allusion to the sage advice of Jethro (Exod. 18:21) and Moses (Deut. 1:15–18) and David’s decisions are inconsistent with this advice. Indeed, at least two out of the three officers that David puts in charge of his army are known to be ruthless and reckless. Joab is complicit in Uriah’s unlawful death (2 Sam. 11:16–17). Joab is also guilty of masking David’s incompetence (2 Sam. 12:27–28). However, Joab’s greatest failing in the narrative thus far is his decision to trick David into bringing Absalom back to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 14). This ruse paved the way for the success of Absalom’s revolt.

Although not much is written about Abishai, it is implied that he is less than wise, honest, and God-fearing. McCarter writes, “The stories present him [Abishai] as heroic and fiercely loyal (cf. II Sam. 21:16–17) but rash and rather cold blooded in dealing with enemies, often requiring restraint (I Sam. 26:8–11; II Sam. 16:9–12, 19:21–22).”114 Of all of the sons of Zeruiah, McCarter argues, “Here and elsewhere the sons of Zeruiah-prefer violent, swift action to reason and restraint.”115 Less is known of Ittai the Gittite. However, in 2 Samuel 15:19–22 it is implied that Ittai is opportunistic.

The mode of verbal irony in this verse is impersonal and the sub-category is insinuation, since it is implied that the leaders in David’s army are corrupt.

6.4.2 2 Samuel 18:2b–4

At the lower level of 18:2b David tells his soldiers that he will march out with them. The men tell David that he must not march out with them as his life is too valuable (18:3).116 In 18:4 David tells the soldiers that he will do as they requested. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David ought to lead them in battle since it is previously stated that Israel appointed David king because he leads his soldiers in battle (2 Sam. 5:2–3). Not unlike the story of the woman from Tekoa (2 Sam. 14:12–21), it would appear that David initially tried to do the right thing, yet is dissuaded from doing so, by the encouragement of subordinates.117

The incongruity here is between David’s preparedness to fight honourably (18:2b) and the fact that he allows himself to be diverted from the honourable course of action by his men (18:3). So, ironically, David who is all too often inclined to do the wrong thing, is in this instance desirous of doing the right thing, but is persuaded by his subordinates to do the wrong thing. David is the object of ironic attack and the unknowing victim of irony.

The grade of verbal irony is covert and the ironic content is implied by the use of language and our background knowledge. As far as the language used in the narrative is concerned, Auld argues, “David’s insistence that he join the battle … is triply underscored linguistically: the verb is doubled by use of the infinitive absolute; the independent pronoun is used to stress the subject; and even that is further emphasized with the added “also” (gam).”118 This use of language highlights the incongruity mentioned above. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal and the sub-category is insinuation. There is an insinuation that David is not the warrior king he once used to be.

6.4.3 2 Samuel 18:5–7

At the lower level of the narrative David instructs his commanders to be gentle with Absalom, and all of Israel hear the command (18:5). The battle between the men of Israel and David’s troops is fierce, and David’s troops slaughter a great number of Absalom’s army (18:6–7). At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David is unable to discharge his responsibilities when it involves his family. After all, Absalom is committing treason for which the punishment is death (1 Kgs. 2:25) and Absalom’s treason is a threat to David’s kingdom. Of note, Ahithophel’s decision to hang himself (2 Sam. 17:23) was in keeping with this punishment.119 Moreover, the ironist also implies that Absalom’s revolt was fuelled in large part by David’s inability to administer justice adequately. This implication relies on our background knowledge (2 Sam. 15:3). Further, the ironist implies that David is quite happy to put the lives of his own men at risk while attempting to spare that of his enemy. The incongruity in the narrative is between David’s plea for the army to be gentle with Absalom and the implications with respect to Absalom’s treason and David’s own men just mentioned.

The inconsistency in David’s judgments has been a strong theme throughout the narrative. In some cases his punishment is too severe (2 Sam. 12:5–6), and in other cases he does not administer justice at all (2 Sam. 13:21, 14:33). The leniency David shows is predominantly to his own family members (2 Sam. 13:21, 14:33). However, in this narrative the lives of David’s soldiers are at risk (18:4) and, indeed, David’s kingdom itself is at extreme risk, from the actions of his son, Absalom. Ironically, then, David is at his most lenient when the threat to his own men and his kingdom is at its most extreme.

David is the object of ironic attack. The grade of verbal irony is covert, as it is not immediately apparent. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal, and the sub-category is irony displayed.

6.4.4 2 Samuel 18:8–9

At the lower level of these verses the forest is reported as being responsible for more victims than the sword (18:8). 18:9 describes how Absalom’s head/hair became entangled in a tree whilst his mule rode out from underneath him, leaving him hanging in the tree. At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that Absalom’s over-zealous, self-righteous vigilante mission has come to an absurd, if fitting, end. The incongruity here is between the earlier portrayal of Absalom as the just avenger of his sister, Tamar, and the current portrayal of him as a pathetic, treasonous criminal who has come to the end of the line. This is symbolised by Absalom’s hanging in the tree. This is significant, as treasonous kings were routinely hung on trees (Josh. 8:29; 10:26).

Absalom is the object of ironic attack. He is also the unknowing victim of irony as he is confidently unaware of the irony of the situation. The grade of verbal irony is covert and the ironic content is dependent on our background knowledge concerning the sequence of events that began with the rape of Tamar.

The mode of verbal irony is impersonal, and the sub-category of irony is irony displayed. However, this instance of irony displayed is different to the previous examples of irony displayed discussed in this book. In respect of this species of irony displayed Muecke says: “The other way is to accept the situation or the victim’s position but develop it according to the victim’s premises until the absurdity of the conclusion confronts the plausibility of the beginning.”120 In our example, the irony displayed involves Absalom. The initial position is that of Absalom’s hardened heart and his belief that vigilantism equates with justice. The absurdity develops as follows. Absalom is originally portrayed as a character who is over-zealous when it concerns justice, but whose vigilante style of justice turns him into a person who is entirely unjust, even more unjust than David. So, the greatest absurdity is that Absalom’s behaviour is in some cases more corrupt than David’s, despite Absalom’s apparent resentment towards David’s unjust behaviour. The absurdity in Absalom’s extreme and corrupt behaviour confronts the plausibility of his initial intention to avenge.

Ironically, Absalom’s character and David’s character eventually become somewhat similar. Moreover, again ironically, Absalom’s vigilante behaviour which is initially fuelled in reaction to David’s unlawful behaviour, ends up being far worse than David’s behaviour. Absalom is confidently unaware of the irony of the situation.121

It might also be argued, that there is an allusion to the story of the woman of Tekoa in this verse. Notably, David swore an oath to the woman of Tekoa that he would ensure that not one hair from the head of her son would fall to the ground (2 Sam. 14:11). Absalom is analogous to the woman’s son in the ruse of the woman of Tekoa. In the story of the woman of Tekoa, David promises to protect her son and in the current situation, David commands that Absalom be protected. In the story of the woman of Tekoa David’s decision to save her son is foolish since it leads to the return of Absalom from exile. Likewise, David’s decision to protect Absalom is foolish. For Absalom should have been killed since he was responsible for the unlawful murder of Amnon. By allowing him back to Jerusalem the inevitable was delayed, amidst much damage to the kingdom. So, the allusion to the woman of Tekoa highlights David’s foolishness in protecting Absalom in the current situation.

In summation, neither Absalom nor David are obedient to the laws. The absurd outcome of Absalom’s vigilante behaviour has been discussed, as has David’s incompetence, specifically, his failure to administer the law adequately. Moreover, it is David’s incompetence that has enabled Absalom’s behaviour. The result of all this has been disastrous, as Israel is engaged in civil war.122

6.4.5 2 Samuel 18:10–11

At the lower level of 18:11 is Joab’s response to the man who announced to Joab that Absalom was hanging in a tree (18:10). Joab asks the man why he did not kill Absalom, and Joab tells the man that he would have rewarded him, had he done so (18:11). At the upper level of the narrative Joab is implying that the man should have killed Absalom. Since Joab’s comment is not a strict request for information. Joab is instead asking a rhetorical question. In addition, Joab is implying that would still be prepared to pay the man if he kills Absalom. So, his statement about the past is also an offer with respect to the future. This view is supported by Fokkelman who argues that Joab’s comment והנה ראית (And behold you saw)123 (18:11) is a cutting response to the soldier’s remark הנה ראיתי (Behold I saw)124 (18:10); that 18:11c “… and why did you not strike him to the ground”125 (ומדוע לא־הכיתו שׁם ארצה) is a reproach in the form of a rhetorical question; and that 18:11d is an inducement.126

The opposition in the narrative arises from the difference between what Joab says and what Joab means. Arguably, Joab is not asking the soldier why he did not kill Absalom because he is genuinely interested to know the man’s motivation; instead Joab is taking the opportunity to induce the soldier to kill Absalom. The grade of verbal irony is overt in the case of the rhetorical question but is covert in the case of the inducement. The implied inducement is not immediately apparent and is dependent on the use of language as well as the context.

On the other hand, Baldwin suggests that Joab’s question is sarcastic,127 however, it is more appropriate to argue for a subtler irony in this instance, given that the rhetorical question is followed by an inducement. Since the inducement is to perform an act that is contrary to the king’s command and is, therefore, unlawful, it is not merely an inducement but a bribe. The bribe is as follows:

ועלי לתת לך עשׂרה כסף וחגרה אחת

(And I would have given you ten shekels of silver and a belt.)128

That Joab is offering a bribe supports the irony in 18:1–2a concerning David’s appointment of corrupt captains. For in Exodus 18:21 it is stated that Jethro chose men to lead hundreds and thousands who were trustworthy and hated bribes whereas David appointed Joab to lead over hundreds and thousands. The fact that Joab is offering a bribe makes him the object of ironic attack in this verse (18:11).

6.4.6 2 Samuel 18:12–13

At the lower level of 18:12–13 the soldier that Joab was speaking to tells Joab that he would never kill Absalom for the reason that David commanded the troops not to do so (18:12). The soldier also makes a point of telling Joab that it is his belief that if he had killed Absalom, Joab would not have protected him (18:13). At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that the soldier would have killed Absalom and accepted Joab’s bribe if he had believed that Joab would have protected him. This implication arises from the incompatibility between the following statements. Firstly, the soldier boldly tells Joab that he would not kill Absalom for the reason that it is the king’s command that he not do so. The soldier even goes so far as to suggest that if he were to be given “a thousand pieces of silver” he would still refuse to disobey David’s order (18:12). This remark is an overstatement as the soldier restates Joab’s offer tenfold.129 However, secondly, in the next sentence the soldier suggests that he would not kill Absalom because Joab would not protect him if he did (18:13).

The opposition in the narrative arises from the incompatibility with what the soldier says and what the soldier means. The grade of verbal irony in this instance is covert, as it is not immediately apparent. In 18:12 the soldier adamantly tells Absalom that he will not kill Absalom. However, the implication is that he would have killed Absalom if Joab could be trusted. The mode of verbal irony is impersonal, and as stated the sub-category of irony is overstatement. The object of ironic attack is the soldier and his deceitful character.

6.4.7 2 Samuel 18:14–17

At the lower level of 18:14 Joab strikes Absalom in the heart with three spears, and ten of Joab’s armour-bearers strike Absalom and kill him (18:15). In 18:16 the troops come back from chasing the Israelites, and in 18:17 Absalom is buried while the Israelites flee the war and return home. At the upper level it is implied that Joab has committed an act of treason because he has not followed the king’s orders and that he is partly responsible for Absalom’s attempt to usurp the throne. In 18:5 it states that the king ordered Joab, Abishai, and Ittai to deal gently with Absalom. Thereby, ironically, Joab has followed the correct course of action by killing Absalom since this saves the kingdom, but he does so by way of an act of treason since he directly disobeyed the king’s command. Moreover, Joab is complicit in Absalom’s revolt since he engineered Absalom’s return to Jerusalem. The grade of verbal irony is covert and the mode of verbal irony is impersonal. The sub-category is irony displayed. Joab is the object of ironic attack and is also he unknowing victim since he is confidently unaware of the irony of the situation.

Of note is an irony that emerges out of some features of the war fought between David and Absalom that resemble features in the content of Ahithophel’s counsel to Absalom in 2 Samuel 17:1–3. Ahithophel suggests that Absalom should allow Ahithophel to go after David without Absalom (2 Sam. 17:3). Similarly, in 18:3 Joab and the army go to war without David. In 2 Samuel 17:2 Ahithophel predicts that David’s army would be in a panic. It could be suggested that Absalom’s army was in a panic (18:7–8). Ahithophel says that he will only kill the king (2 Sam. 17:3). Although a large number of Absalom’s army die (18:7), the battle ceases after Absalom’s death (18:16). Ahithophel predicts that all of the people will flee (2 Sam. 17:2). In 18:17 all of the people with Absalom flee. In the light of the above, we can now see that Absalom was defeated by the very advice which he decided not to follow, namely, the advice from Ahithophel that Absalom should not lead his men into battle. Moreover, the things that Ahithophel predicted would happen to David and his army (if Absalom followed Ahithophel’s advice) actually happened to Absalom and his army. This is all very ironic. Indeed, since Absalom is the object of ironic attack by virtue of his foolishness, the category of irony is verbal irony. The irony is greatly strengthened by the following consideration. Presumably, Absalom led his men into battle against Ahithophel’s advice because he wanted to do the honourable thing. If so, he was acting honourably in the course of engaging in an unjust and treasonable war. This fits the image of Absalom as the self-righteous vigilante whose ‘honourable’ response to his sister’s rape leads to an unnecessary and disastrous war.

Of note, it may in fact also be the case that David actually acted on Ahithophel’s advice; the advice that he had clandestinely received via Hushai. Therefore, by providing Hushai with Ahithophel’s counsel, Absalom not only gave David the advantage of knowing what advice Absalom had been given, but also the winning strategy. If so, this adds yet another ironic layer.

6.4.8 2 Samuel 18:19–23

At the lower level of the narrative Ahimaaz asks Joab if he (Ahimaaz) can be the messenger to tell David that the Lord has delivered David from his enemies (18:19). Joab tells Ahimaaz that he will not tell David the news of the war on this day, as the king’s son has been killed (18:20). Joab orders a Cushite to tell David what he has seen, and the Cushite runs off (18:21). Ahimaaz asks Joab again if he can run to tell David the news of the war. Joab replies to Ahimaaz with a question asking him why he wants to tell David the news, given that Ahimaaz has nothing to gain130 by telling David the news (18:22). Ahimaaz responds that he is adamant that he would like to run, and Joab tells him to run. Ahimaaz then outruns the Cushite (18:23).

At the upper level of the narrative Joab’s question is rhetorical and he is implying to Ahimaaz that it would be dangerous for Ahimaaz to inform David of Absalom’s death since David may respond violently. The opposition arises from the difference between what Joab says and what Joab means. Joab asks Ahimaaz why he wants to run as he has nothing to gain, whereas the implication is Joab tells him not to run as he will likely be harmed.

The grade of verbal irony is covert as it is not immediately apparent. As mentioned, Joab asks a rhetorical question in his speech. Joab’s question in 18:22 is a rhetorical question since it is a warning rather than a request for information. The rhetorical question, which is spoken by Joab, is as follows:

למה־זה אתה רץ בני ולכה אין־בשׂורה מצאת

(Why would you run, my son, since you have nothing to gain?)131

The claim that this question is rhetorical is confirmed in 18:23 where Ahimaaz does not respond to Joab by giving him extra information, but instead replies to the implicit warning in Joab’s comment by saying, “Come what may, I will run”. McCarter adds that Joab’s use of the word בני (my son) in this sentence is either patronizing, condescending, or ironic.132

6.4.9 2 Samuel 18:24–27

There is no obvious irony in this section aside from the incongruity that while Absalom’s death is bad news for David it is in fact good news for Israel. Furthermore, the runners presumably believe that they are bringing the good news of victory, while David’s assumed response is that the news is bad news given that Absalom has been killed.

6.4.10 2 Samuel 18:28–32

At the lower level in 18:28–31 both of the messengers report the events of the war to David. In 18:28 Ahimaaz prostrates himself in front of David and tells him that he has won the battle. Ahimaaz blesses the Lord for freeing David of his enemies. In 18:29 David asks Ahimaaz if Absalom is well and Ahimaaz replies that he saw a scuffle with Absalom, but that he could not be sure of what happened. David tells Ahimaaz to stay where he is and to stay still (18:30). In 18:31 the Cushite tells David that the Lord has judged David and freed him from those who rose against him. David asks the Cushite if Absalom is well, and the Cushite tells David that Absalom is dead (18:32). At the upper level of the narrative the ironist implies that David perceives Absalom’s death as a bad thing, whereas the runners perceive Absalom’s death as a good thing.

The dominant irony in the narrative arises from the use of the word שׁפטך.The messengers interpret God’s judgement to be in favour of David, as David’s enemies have been killed. However, the ironist implies that far from God’s judgement being in favour of David, the war and the death of Absalom are all part of God’s punishment of David for his transgressions (2 Sam. 12:7–12). The opposition in the narrative arises from the contrast between the messenger’s account of God’s judgement as being favourable to David and the implied account that God’s judgement is against David and God is carrying out his promised punishment of David.

The innocence in the passage comes through the innocence of the messengers. However, they cannot be spoken of as confidently unaware, but are instead ingenues. In the mode of irony which is ingenu irony, the ironist does not feign ignorance, but instead uses a true innocent to expose the incongruity in a situation. Although Ahimaaz dissimulated somewhat with respect to Absalom’s death he, nevertheless, is truly innocent in relation to any knowledge about God’s punishing of David. The grade of irony is covert as it is hidden behind the ingenu.

6.4.11 2 Samuel 18:33/19:1

At the lower level of 18:33 David goes up to his chamber and weeps. He then says:

בני אבשׁלום בני בני אבשׁלום מי־יתן מותי אני תחתיך אבשׁלום בני בני

(O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!)133

At the upper level of the narrative the ironist is reminded of David’s punishment in 2 Samuel 12:14:

אפס כי־נאץ נאצת את־איבי יהוה בדבר הזה גם הבן הילוד מות ימות

(Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die).134

Although this verse is followed by the death of David’s illegitimate child with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:15)—the child being the apparent victim of David’s transferred punishment—allusions to Absalom’s death are also evident. Certainly, Absalom’s revolt is implicitly predicted in 2 Samuel 12:11–12. Moreover, David’s own proclamation in 18:33 alludes to this punishment. Not only is the word בני (my son) mentioned five times, but David says that he would have died instead of Absalom. As has already been mentioned, death was the appropriate punishment for David’s transgressions (Lev. 20:10).

The opposition in the narrative arises from the incongruity between David’s grandiose remark that he would have died instead of Absalom (18:3) and the fact that David actually should have died, given that it was David’s transgressions which led to Absalom’s death (2 Sam. 11–12). Indeed, this incongruity is ironic. David is the object of ironic attack. The grade of irony is covert as it relies on the background knowledge of David’s transgressions and incompetencies as king. The sub-category of verbal irony is pretended defence of the victim, as the ironist defends David in the lower level, yet, is pejoratively critical of David in the upper level.

6.4.12 Summary of 2 Samuel 18:1–18:33/19:1

In 18:1–2a there is an insinuation that David appoints thugs over his army instead of wise and upstanding men. In 18:2b–4 there is an insinuation that David is not the warrior king he once was. In 18:5–7 an example of irony displayed shows that David does not administer justice effectively.

Verses 18:8–9 show irony displayed as the absurdity of Absalom’ situation is played out—Absalom became more corrupted than David despite Absalom revolting against David because of David’ corruption. In 18:10–11 it is Joab’s rhetorical question which is ironic. Joab asks the soldier why he did not kill Absalom. The soldier replies in 18:12–13 in an overstatement that he would not kill Absalom because of David’s command, and because Joab would not protect him if he did. In 18:14–17 the major irony is irony displayed as Absalom was defeated by the advice that he did not follow.

In 18:19–23 a rhetorical question challenges Ahimaaz’s intention to share with David the news of the war. In 18:24–27 there is an ambiguity concerning whether or not the news that the messengers bring to David is good or bad. Verses 18:28–32 are a case of ingenu irony, where it is the true innocent who exposes David’s confused response to Absalom’s death. In 18:33 the sub-category of verbal irony is pretended defence of the victim.

1

Insinuation is the dominant sub-category of irony in this verse. However, an argument may also be made for overstatement as a lesser sub-category of irony in this instance. Baldwin argues that Absalom’s attendants were extravagant and theatrical (Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 257). Similarly, Hertzberg (336) argues that Absalom’s display was propaganda (Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, 336).

2

Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Sam, 283. Alter also suggests that this verse makes a mockery of the praise from the woman of Tekoa who speaks of David as knowing everything which is going on around him (2 Sam. 14:20). This claim supports the irony in this verse which is spoken of in-depth in the previous chapter.

3

Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 269.

4

Anderson, WBC, Vol. 11. 2 Samuel, 194.

5

McKane, I & II Samuel: Introduction and Commentary, 248.

6

Translation from RSV.

7

Meir Malul, “Absalom’s Chariot and Fifty Runners (II Samuel 15,1) and Hittite Laws §198 Legal Proceedings in the Ancient Near East,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. 122, no. 1 (2010), 44–52, 46.

8

Translation from the NRS.

9

McKane, I & II Samuel: Introduction and Commentary, 249.

10

Anderson, WBC, Vol. 11. 2 Samuel, 195.

11

Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 257.

12

Interestingly, the only plaintiff with a ריב in the books of Samuel is David. In 1 Sam. 24:16 David implores Yahweh to judge his complaint against Saul, and in 1 Sam. 25:39 David gives thanks to God for settling his complaint by killing Nabal.

13

“judge”.

14

Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 270.

15

“king may judge” Translation from NAS.

16

S. Herrmann, A History of Israel in Old Testament Times, trans. J. Bowden from German 1973. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 164.

17

Campbell, 2 Samuel, 145.

18

Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Sam, 284, and Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 258.

19

Author’s translation.

20

“And Jacob deceived Laban …” Translation from NAS. McCarter Jr., II Samuel, 356. The extent of Absalom’s deceit is debated. In 15:2 Absalom asks the people where they are from, and when the people tell him they are from Israel, he shows partiality in his judgement towards them (15:3). In 15:6 the Israelites are mentioned twice. Thereby, there is an emphasis on the people of Israel. This emphasis has led scholars to debate who Absalom was trying to gain favour with. McKane argues that Absalom is only speaking to the men of Israel as the northern tribes, given that the supplicants had travelled to Jerusalem to have their complaints heard (McKane, I & II Samuel: Introduction and Commentary, 250). Similarly, Mauchline argues that it would appear in 15:6 that Absalom is addressing the tribes of northern Israel, given that he was more popular there (Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel).

21

Translation from RSV.

22

“forty years”.

23

O. Thenius, Die Bücher Samuelis (Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Alten Testament Bd. 4: Leipzig, 1864) 216; H. P. Smith, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Samuel (ICC: Edinburgh 1899), 342; K. Budde, Die Bücher Samuel (Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Alten Testament VIII; Tübingen 1902), 270; H. W. Hertzberg, Die Samuelbücher (ATD 10: Göttingen 1960), 276 I & II Sam. A Commentary (London 1964) 355; Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 270; Fokkelman, “King David (II Sam. 9–20 & I Kgs. 1–2),” 454; Barthelemy, Critique. 271–272; P. K. McCarter, II Samuel. A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary (AB 9: Garden City 1984), 355; R. P. Gordon, I & II Samuel. A Commentary (Exeter 1986), 271: Anderson, WBC, Vol. 11. 2 Samuel, 193. n.7a; The New International Version (Grand Rapids 1978); The New Jerusalem Bible (London 1985); The Revised English Bible (Oxford 1989)” Robert Althann, “The meaning of ’rb‘ym shnh in 2 Sam 15:7,” Bib 73, no. 2 (1992), 248–252, 248–249. It may be more plausible to argue as Althann does, that שׁנה is better interpreted as a verb which repeats or intensifies an expression, and that the amount of time is better interpreted within the context of the narrative. Althann’s interpretation of this verse is, “And at the end of forty days Absalom spoke insistently to the king, “Please may I go and fulfil my vow, which I made to the Lord, in Hebron”’ (Althann, 248). However, Forty days would appear to be a short amount of time for Absalom who has previously been shown to brood for some time (2 Sam. 13:23; 14:28).

24

A comment by David Marcus.

25

Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, 337.

26

Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 284.

27

McCarter Jr., II Samuel, 356.

28

Fokkelman, “King David (II Sam. 9–20 & I Kgs. 1–2),” 170–171.

29

Translation from NKJ.

30

This complexity could be a case of dramatic irony whereby, the character in the narrative is unaware of an important element of the story which is known to the reader. However, to call this event an example of dramatic irony is to downplay the arrogance of Absalom and the critical message of the impersonal ironist. Although these forms of irony can be similar, distinctions can be made in the different functions of the irony. For example, impersonal irony moralises, whereas dramatic irony is comical. Furthermore, impersonal irony is concerned with the message of the narrative, and the hope that vices will be exposed in order that they may be learned from, whereas dramatic irony is more concerned with irony for its aesthetic appeal.

31

Fokkelman, “King David (II Sam. 9–20 & I Kgs. 1–2),” 172–174.

32

Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, 338.

33

Ibid.

34

McCarter Jr., II Samuel, 357.

35

Ibid.

36

Of note, in the beginning of 15:12 Absalom sends for Ahithophel who is spoken of being an advisor to David. It is possible that this Ahithophel is the same man who is spoken of in the genealogy in 2 Samuel 23:34 which lists Ahithophel as Eliam’s father. This suggests that the man Absalom sends for is Bathsheba’s grandfather (McCarter J., II Samuel, 357). If this is the case then Absalom has sent for the man who is the grandfather of the woman that David took (2 Sam. 11:4), the grandfather-in-law of the soldier that David had executed (2 Sam. 11:14–15), and unbeknownst to Absalom and Ahithophel, the man who is the great-grandfather to Yahweh’s favoured prince, Solomon (2 Sam 12:24–25). Given Ahithophel’s unique family connections, arguably the presence of Ahithophel in the story of Absalom’s conspiracy against David, is an allusion to David’s misdeeds, which pave the way for Absalom’s revolt.

37

Muecke, The Compass of Irony, 79.

38

Author’s translation.

39

Translation from the NKJV.

40

Translation from the NRS.

41

Translation from the RSV.

42

Graeme Auld, I & II Samuel, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2011), 508.

43

Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, 342.

44

Translation from the NRS.

45

Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 260.

46

Campbell, 2 Samuel 147.

47

Author’s translation.

48

Campbell gives a good suggestion of Ittai’s intentions. “Equally diplomatic, Ittai is given a heroic response: ‘wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be.’ (v.21) The inevitable question for any diplomat or counsellor is whether these statements are to be taken at face value or understood as courtly diplomacy. Ittai professes heroically unswerving loyalty; no reason is given why he should. Is his profession of loyalty backed by his political and military acumen? Does he expect David to emerge as winner from the confrontation ahead? Does the elegance of his language conceal shrewd judgement that backs a winner? We are not told. Ittai’s speech favours loyalty; the narrator’s context may be thought to favour shrewdness and acumen. It may have been both.” Ibid.

49

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 184.

50

Anderson, WBC, Vol. 11. 2 Samuel, 204.

51

J. De Groot, II Samuel, Groningen/den Haag/Batavia, 1935, a.l.; R. A. Carlson, David the chosen King, Stockholm, 1964, 173, 175.

52

Anderson, WBC, Vol. 11. 2 Samuel, 204.

53

For a different perspective, see. J. Hoftijzer, “A Peculiar Question: A Note on 2 Sam. XV 27”, 606–609.

54

Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 261.

55

Previously David sought to bring the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:1–5). Yet, Uzzah was struck by the Lord when he reached out to steady the ark (2 Sam. 6:6–7). This made David fearful of taking the ark to Jerusalem and he left it in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite who was blessed for having the ark (2 Sam. 6:10–11). Upon hearing this David retrieved the ark and brought it to the city (2 Sam. 6:12). David then decided to build a house for the Lord so that the ark would not have to reside in a tent (2 Sam. 7:2). In response to David’s initiative God made a covenant with David that his ‘house’ would be secure and enduring (2 Sam. 7:16).

56

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 186.

57

Ibid., 187.

58

Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 274.

59

Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, 338.

60

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 193.

61

Gerhard von Rad, “The Beginnings of History Writing in Ancient Israel,” in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, trans. E. W. Trueman Dicken (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955).

62

At this juncture, it is worth mentioning that the Israelites are the real losers in this story as they find themselves caught in the middle of a king who does not administer justice and a prince who is angry, vengeful and delusional. The pejorative criticism of the ironist is that the Israelites are not receiving good governance. Yet, it was the Israelites who wanted a king despite Yahweh’s warnings (1 Sam. 8:11–18). Thereby, in a broader sense the Israelites may be considered to be the victims of the irony, as they were confidently unaware of the consequences of their decision to have a king, despite being warned in detail of the dangers.

63

“from the head” “from the top”.

64

“head”.

65

Polzin suggests that the symbol of the head is central in the story of David’s flight from Jerusalem. David and his followers cover their heads as they leaves Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:30), Hushai puts dirt on his head (2 Sam. 15:32), and Hushai and Ziba are met near the head of the mountain (2 Sam. 15:32, 16:1). Polzin also argues that the focus on an elevated landscape supports the head motif. Polzin, David and the Deuteronomist. A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, 150.

66

Auld, I & II Samuel, 514.

67

Muecke, The Compass of Irony, 82.

68

Author’s translation, “what are these for?”

69

Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 262.

70

Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 291.

71

For a comprehensive discussion on this topic see, Stuart Lasine, “Judicial Narratives and the Ethics of Reading: The Reader as Judge of the Dispute Between Mephibosheth and Ziba,” Hebrew Studies, 30 (1989), 49–69.

72

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 195.

73

Auld, I & II Samuel, 514.

74

Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 275.

75

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 196.

76

See commentary for 2 Sam 15:18.

77

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 196.

78

The confusion over Shimei’s character can be observed by contrasting Brueggemann and Simpson. Brueggemann suggests that Shimei is representative of the older order who were strict adherents of retributive justice, and is contrasted with David who stands for a newer relationship with God. (Walter Brueggemann, “On Coping with Curse: A Study of 2 Sam 16:5–14,” CBQ 36, no. 2 (1974), 175–192). Simpson, on the other hand, argues that Shimei stands for a new group of people who were openly opposed to the wrong-doing of the kings, and were compelled to speak out against abuses of the Torah. From this perspective Shimei can be interpreted as being prophet-like, which suggests that the narrative is critical of David. Simpson, “Paradigm Shift Happens: Intertextuality and a Reading of 2 Samuel 16:5–14,” 68–69.

79

Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 292.

80

Campbell, 2 Samuel, 150.

81

Translation from NKJ.

82

Translation from NKJ.

83

Simpson, “Paradigm Shift Happens: Intertextuality and a Reading of 2 Samuel 16:5–14,” 62 & 67.

84

Translation RSV.

85

Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 276.

86

Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 263.

87

Translation RSV.

88

Anderson, WBC, Vol. 11. 2 Samuel, 206–207.

89

Abishai encourages David to let him kill Saul in 1 Sam. 26:8, as he believes that God has given Saul to David to kill. Yet, David stops him, as David does not want to take on the guilt of killing Saul, and would prefer to see Saul die by God’s hands by another method; possibly at the hands of another warrior in battle (1 Sam. 26:9–10). David is saved from taking on the blood guilt of Nabal in the previous chapter (1 Sam. 25:33–38). These events show David to abrogate his responsibility.

90

Brueggemann, “On Coping with Curses: A Study of 2 Sam 16:5–14,” 181.

91

Anderson has suggested that this verse is an elliptic oath, whereby, Hushai puts himself under Absalom’s control, but that it can be reasonably assumed that Hushai is thinking of David as he makes the statement (Anderson, WBC, Vol. 11. 2 Samuel, 213).

92

Translation from the NKJ.

93

“friend” and “faithful love”.

94

Translation from RSV.

95

McCarter Jr., II Samuel, 384.

96

Michael Avioz, “Divine Intervention and Human Error in the Absalom Narrative,” JSOT 37 no. 3 (2013), 339–347, 344.

97

Translation from RSV.

98

Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, 350; Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 279; Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 296; McCarter Jr., II Samuel, 381 et al.

99

However, it may be suggested that this affirmation cannot be entirely trusted as Absalom ultimately takes a different course of action (17:23–24).

100

Despite my claim that there are no discernible instances of verbal irony in this section, there are other anomalies in this passage which suggest that all is not what it may seem. For instance, Alter suggests that the image of a single man being struck down whilst the army flees, ironically mirrors David’s plan for Uriah (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 296). Mauchline argues that it is unusual for a wise man to lead an army (Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, 279). Auld observes that David is still spoken of as the king, despite the fact that Ahithophel is addressing Absalom, who clearly views himself as the king (Auld, I & II Samuel, 521).

101

The real boon for Hushai is that Absalom tells him Ahithophel’s plan. With this knowledge, Hushai can pass on both possible scenarios to David, and David can plan accordingly.

102

A difficulty does arise in this interpretation given that Absalom is not the true king. However, the tide of popular opinion did change when David led the Israelites out to war (1 Sam. 18:5–7), and it may be assumed that this would be the correct course of action for Absalom to take in the present circumstances.

103

Muecke, The Compass of Irony, 82.

104

Throughout 17:8–13 a range of different rhetorical devices are used. Song-Mi Park notes the paronomasia of verbal roots and oppositions, and the heightened or exaggerated speech. Ronald Hyman notes (a) metaphor (even the valiant men with a lion’s heart (17:10)); (b) simile (troops as numerous as the sand by the sea (17:11)) and (c) alliteration. All of these rhetorical devices point to irony in the passage.

105

“enraged” “bitter”.

106

“bear”.

107

“man of war”.

108

Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 297–298.

109

Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 232.

110

Song-Mi Park, “The Frustration of Wisdom: Wisdom, Counsel, and Divine Will in 2 Samuel 17:1–23,” JBL 128, no. 3 (2009), 453–467, 458–459.

111

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 230.

112

Translation from the RSV.

113

Author’s translation.

114

McCarter Jr., II Samuel, 95.

115

Ibid., 97.

116

Fokkelman suggests that the soldiers’ request for David to remain absent from the war provides “an ironic connection” with 2 Samuel 17:2 where Ahithophel wanted David to be separate from his men. Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 238.

117

This may also have been the case in 2 Samuel 11:1 where David does not go out to battle but remains in Jerusalem. The narrative informs the reader that Ahithophel was David’s counsellor (2 Sam. 15:12), so it is possible that Ahithophel would have given David similar advice to the advice that he gave to Absalom (2 Sam. 17:1–3). Ibid., 238.

118

Auld, I & II Samuel, 539.

119

Death by hanging is also the punishment for treason in Esther 2:23.

120

Muecke, The Compass of Irony, 82.

121

A summary of Absalom’s situation may be helpful to highlight the absurdity of the situation. In 2 Samuel 13:28 Absalom orders that Amnon is killed in what could be called vengeance because of the rape of his sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:32). Yet, Absalom acts out of anger (2 Sam. 13:32), and not according to good judgment, which means that Absalom’s actions are not sanctioned by the law (Lev. 19:17). Absalom angrily demands that David give him justice in his own case (2 Sam. 14:22), notwithstanding that justice in his case requires that Absalom is killed. Absalom then tricks the Israelites into following him, because he tells them that there is nobody to administer justice in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:1–6). This is a manipulative comment. A further absurdity may be considered in the knowledge that Absalom appeared to believe that God was on his side (2 Sam. 15:8), however, the reader knows that Absalom is only returned to Jerusalem because David is tricked into returning him (2 Sam. 14:11–17).

122

Of note, the typical irony which is spoken of in this passage is the fact that Absalom was riding a mule. Auld suggests that there is irony in the contrast of Absalom behind a horse and a chariot (2 Sam. 15:1) and Absalom riding a mule (2 Sam. 18:9). Auld argues that the mule is a lesser animal which was also used by the princes when they fled from Amnon’s assassination (2 Sam. 13:29) (Auld, I & II Samuel, 541). However, in this period mules were the traditional transport of princes and kings (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 304–305). Mules would have been a better choice for this battle as their dietary needs are easier to meet, and they are more surefooted than horses on uneven terrain. The terrain was known to be difficult as it is stated that the forest claimed more lives than the sword did (18:8). It might also be said that Auld’s observation that the princes fled from Amnon’s assassination on mules re-enforces the idea that mules were thought to be special animals fit for royalty. Thereby, it is unlikely that there is irony in the mention of the mule.

123

Author’s translation.

124

Ibid.

125

Ibid.

126

Fokkelman, “King David (II Samuel 9–20 & I Kings 1–2),” 243.

127

Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 270.

128

Author’s translation.

129

Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 305.

130

There are difficulties with the translation of the word בשׂורה. The traditional interpretation suggests that this word may be translated as reward, however, this suggests that the messenger may miss out on something that would be given to him; for example a monetary reward. The interpretation that the messenger has nothing to gain, suggesting that there will be nothing favourable in telling the king that his son is dead, would seem to be a clearer interpretation. (McCarter Jr., II Samuel, 402).

131

Author’s translation.

132

Ibid., 408.

133

Translation from NRS.

134

Translation from NRS.