“Can You Believe It?”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
2 Samuel 5:1-10
July 8, 2018
David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” – 2 Samuel 5:8i
I am forced by my conscience to look at 2 Samuel 5:8. It may be of no concern to you but I could not let it go. That is the first reason we are looking at this passage today – it deeply troubled me. The second reason is that it may have disturbed some of you. It may cause good people of faith to stumble and question the goodness of God. And the third reason is that you may encounter folks who question your faith because of such problematic passages in the Bible.
There are a number of them. Some go counter to our understanding of the universe (Joshua 10:12).1 Some cause us to question the character of God (Deuteronomy 20:16).2 Such passages can be glossed over – red and ignored. But they are part of the living record of our faith and as such deserve our attention. So today, by looking at 2 Samuel 5:8, we will do just that.
I am going to offer you some principles of interpretation that have helped me cope with such problematic passages. They are not offered in any particular order of importance.
At the outset, let it be said that this is the story of David being made king over Israel and Judah and of David taking the city of Jerusalem which up to this point had no special place in the history of the Jewish people. Its importance rests in its geological location. It sits between Israel to the East and Judah to the West. I suspect Montpelier was selected as Vermont’s capital because of its geographical location. The same is true for Jerusalem.
If all you were to read was 2 Samuel 5:1-10, you might think that David’s coronation was a rather seamless event. The truth is it is preceded by political intrigue, treachery, treason, and ruthless grabs for power. It is, in short, a bloody mess! David, my friends, is no paragon of virtue. He proves himself to be power hungry and ruthless. Indeed, once you have filled in David’s background, it is not too surprising that he says, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.”
Remember the taunt offered by the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem? They said even the lame and blind are enough to keep David out of their city. David does not take kindly to being insulted. He is going to demonstrate his power. He is going to kill the very ones who were used to mock him. He is going to show not only the Jebusites but his newly acquired subjects that he is not to be taken lightly.
So, what does all this get us? We still have a deeply disturbing decree to kill the weak and the lest. Well, let it be said that we don’t have to defend King David. These are his words, his decree, not God’s. If it proves anything, it proves how depraved human beings can be.
But wait. We still have a problem. Our reading ends with verse 10: “And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” It would seem that God had no problem with David ordering the death of the helpless.
So it’s time to share some principles I have found helpful.
- The Bible is not God. The Bible points to God. It is not God. Holding the book in reverence is appropriate because of its subject matter, but treating it as if it is the thing it points to is idolatry. I remember the story of one pastor who wanted to make this point. He believed his people had come to worship the Bible rather than God who stands over and above the text. So one Sunday he came down out of the pulpit. He picked up a Bible, walked over to a window in the sanctuary, opened it and threw the Bible out. “There,” he said. “Now we can get on with worshiping God.” Don’t make the text your idol.
- When it comes to science, know that the Bible is concerned not with the question of “how” but with the question of “why.” If you come to Genesis seeking a scientific explanation of creation you will have missed the point. Do you really think folks living thousands of years ago had our understanding of the cosmos? If you come looking for a scientific answer as to how the world came into being, you have come to the wrong text. But if you want to learn “why” the world and those of us who inhabit it are as we are, the Bible’s your book. Look for the deeper meaning of the text.
- Let the entire Bible speak. You know it’s true – you can proof text anything. Anyone can pick the verses that support a particular point of view. If you let folks do this without exploring the entire corpus, you’re forfeiting your freedom. Slavery. I’m against it and I’m convinced God is against it, too. But there were some who cited scripture in support of this abomination. Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ…” It’s in the Bible, but so too is Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Let the entire Bible speak and seek the Spirit of Christ. It will guide you to the truth.
- Always remember truth is multifaceted. The Bible is one source for spiritual truth. It is not the only source. There is what is called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Imagine a four-legged table. On the top of the table rests truth. Each leg has a name. They are Reason, Experience, Tradition and the Bible. We make a grave mistake when we make the table to truth into a pedestal table and label the pedestal the Bible. We must be informed by all four legs of the table if truth is to be ours.
- God did not write the Bible. The Bible attempts to explore the relationship between God and humanity. It is written by those who have been impacted by an encounter with the transcendent. Does that mean that the writers were not creatures of their time and place? Does it mean that they somehow came into possession of all Truth with a capital “T.” No. For God to have thwarted the human limitations of those who wrote the Bible would have required a denial of their freedom and autonomy. Much of what they write is true in the deepest sense, but it cannot be true in an absolute sense or it becomes God.
- Look to Jesus. This will not be a helpful suggestion to those who have not come to faith in Christ. It is, however, the ultimate source of legitimacy. At the outset, we cited Deuteronomy 20:16 where God commands His people to kill every living things in the cities they conquer. It is a deeply disturbing picture of Yahweh and one that I reject as a projection of the author of Deuteronomy. The author wanted to legitimize genocide. This is not of God. I simply cannot square such a God with the God who is willing to suffer on the cross, whose love is so deep that God would die for us. Deuteronomy may have much to teach us, but a God who would justify genocide is not the God reveled by Jesus.
None of these principles can elevate in full the problem presented by problematic texts. But I have found that they provide me with a way to live into the questions while clinging to a faith that has made me whole. It is my prayer that you, too, may find them helpful.
1 12 Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon,
and thou Moon in the valley of Ai′jalon.”
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per′izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb′usites, as the Lord your God has commanded; 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God.
i 2 Samuel 5:1-10
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” 3So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
6The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back” —thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. 8David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” 9David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inwards. 10And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.