Saturday, December 10, 2011

The LORD Liveth: 2 Samuel 22, Pt. 1

The following is the first of two posts, separated for length.  It is an exegetical take on 2 Samuel 22.  Thanks for reading and please leave comments!
I was never a big fan of Sunday school.  Having to get up early, wear tight uncomfortable dress clothes and hear the same stories year after year seemed so pointless to me.  My classmates and I were also quite rowdy, to the point that we almost got asked to leave Sunday school around the age of ten.  It was usually not our teachers’ fault… many of my classmates grew up to be Lutheran camp counselors and there are two (and hopefully three) of us who plan on becoming pastors.  Simply put though, up until around I hit confirmation age, church just was not my thing.  Despite such a negative attitude, I always felt happy and close to God when singing one particular song:
            I will call upon the LORD!
            Who is worthy to be praised.
            So shall I be saved from my enemies!
            The LORD liveth, and blessed be the rock,
            and let the God of our salvation be exalted!
What a powerful hymn, filled with triumphant language and joyous words of praise.  Singing it made me feel so good to be a Christian… and we sung it in a round… and there were even hand motions! While reading through 2 Samuel I stumbled upon David’s song of Thanksgiving, the passage from which the lyrics of my favorite childhood hymn were taken.  Once put into the larger narrative arc of 1 and 2 Samuel, it struck me that David’s song might convey a very different meaning from the triumphant message of joy I felt as a child.  I will therefore employ both extrinsic and especially intrinsic exegetical methods in order to find the true message of David’s song of thanksgiving.
            The main function of external criticism in discovering the true meaning of 2 Samuel 22 is not to define exact authorship or whether a historical King David really did sing his song of thanksgiving.  Rather, external critical methods are used only to the extent that they can shed light on the passage’s general historical context.  After reading through 2 Samuel 22 a few times, it quickly became clear that the song splits into at least two main sections.  Following a short introduction, verses two through twenty-nine narrate a story of David’s salvation from deathly forces.  Verses thirty through forty-seven discuss God’s support of David’s many military triumphs.  The song then offers a conclusion in the verses forty-eight through fifty-one.  There is a high (although not universal) level of scholarly consensus on similar formal divisions.  The New Jerome Commentary supports my initial observations, while proposing a possibly deuteronomistic middle section that stretches from verses twenty-one to twenty-nine.[1]  McCarter argues for a similar split while more forcefully identifying deuteronomistic authorship of the middle section.[2]  The strongest dissenting opinion is that of Kuntz, who writes that the similar use of ‘divine epithets’ (such as y¶IoVl`As or ‘rock’) in both major sections supports common authorship.[3]
            Given general scholarly consensus on splitting 2 Samuel 22 into two main portions with a deuteronomistic middle passage, we must identify the historical context of each portion.  Scholars generally agree that Samuel is a collection of earlier narratives with Deuteronomistic edits and additions.  As the Harper Collins Study Bible argues:  “The literary foundation of 1 and 2 Samuel is a group of early narrative sources upon which later editors and compilers drew… In their present form 1 and 2 Samuel are part of the Deuteronomistic History, which extends from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings…”[4] While there is some disagreement, many scholars support an exilic dating and context for the Deuteronomistic history.  Polzin in particular argues that much of Samuel in its final form is a “message to the exiles” in Babylon.[5]  Were all portions of 2 Samuel written during the Babylonian exile by the Deuteronomistic community?  As McCarter states, this is likely not the case:
The presence of Deuteronomistic language in the linking segment indicates that the psalm as a whole probably does not predate the seventh century.  This provides only a terminus ante quem, however, for the two major parts, which can have been much older… Most now agree that the poetry of the psalm is consistently archaic, as show by comparison to Ugaritic poetry, early biblical poetry, and (by contrast) later biblical poetry… One or both of the major parts of the psalm may have been composed as early as the time of David, and it is unlikely that either postdates the ninth century.[6]
McCarthy additionally cites a number of scholars who believe the two archaic portions of 2 Samuel 22 are of a Northern Hebrew character.[7]  It is important to briefly mention that 2 Samuel 22 is nearly identical to Psalm 18.  The only significant difference is the inclusion of :yáîq◊zIj h∞Dwh◊y äÔKVmDj√rRa r&Amaø¥yÅw or “I love you LORD, my source of strength!” at the beginning of the Psalm version.  Ackroyd acknowledges however that, “A close comparison of the two texts shows small but important differences, though the overall effect is the same.”[8]
            If 2 Samuel 22 was indeed arranged and edited by a Deuteronomistic community during the Babylonian exile, what can we then assume about the purpose of the chapter?  Once we define the literary setting, characters and imagery present in the song, we can begin to answer these questions.  While the first portion of 2 Samuel 22 accurately reflects the troubled nature of David’s ascent to power and life as king, the second portion and middle bridge are strangely divorced from the literary setting of previous chapters.  For example, the triumphant tone of verses twenty-nine through fifty-one seem to indicate that with the LORD’s help David’s many victories in life came easily.  Much of David’s life however was a struggle, seemingly quite difficult to bear.  After being anointed by Samuel, David does defeat Goliath easily, yet he must soon flee into the wilderness to escape the jealous hatred of Saul.  David quickly becomes King of Judah after the death of Saul and Jonathan, but is only declared king of all Israel after “a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David” (2 Samuel 3:1).  Even after uniting the kingdom, David still suffers the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Ammon and the betrayal of his son Absalom.  The sense of absolute victory and triumph present in the second portion David’s thanksgiving song does not really reflect actual experience.  The middle bridge of verses twenty-one through twenty-eight also fails to reflect David’s life; it seems unlikely that Uriah for instance would agree David was My™ImDt “perfect” or “without blemish” before God (2 Samuel 22:24).[9]

[1] Raymond Edward Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990), 159.
[2] Kyle P McCarter, II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1994), 475.
[3] Kenneth Kuntz, "Psalm 18: a rhetorical-critical analysis," Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament no. 26 (June 1, 1983): 19. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 28, 2011).
[4] Harold W. Attridge, Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 390.
[5] Robert Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History Part Two, I Samuel (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1989), 31.
[6] McCarter, II Samuel, 474-475.
[7] Ibid, 464.
[8] Peter R. Ackroyd, The Second Book of Samuel: Commentary. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 204.
[9] Strong’s Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament, v. 2.4. Public domain, s.v. “My™ImDt in Accordance Bible Software, version 8.4, CD-ROM (OakTree Software, 2009).

No comments:

Post a Comment