Friday, October 28, 2011

Thoughts on II Samuel

The second half of the Book of Samuel is usually thought of as the story of King David’s reign over Israel. I’d never really thought about how it might provide some insight as to how Christians are supposed to behave. However, when I reread it earlier this year, something stood out to me. We’re presented with a number of stories that feature individuals giving and taking of advice: Good council. Bad council. Subjects reasoning with superiors. Women reasoning with men. The stories highlight how sympathy, inflated egos, desire for peace, desire for revenge, and imperfect and incomplete knowledge about the situations at hand can render desirable or undesirable results.

The women of II Samuel give good advice, yet in one case it’s not accepted. That’s the lot of Tamar, David’s daughter, as she tries to prevent her half-brother Amnon from raping her. Despite his love for her, Amnon ignores her warnings and suggestions (ch. 13). David didn’t love the wise woman who appealed to him, yet he listened to her even though he saw right through her story (ch. 14). The wise woman of Abel-Beth-Maacah was to be an insignificant war casualty, but despite her boldness, Joab listened to her (ch. 20). Amnon, however, makes for a strange case in that his regard for his sister in no way prevented him from violating her. And in the end, perhaps because of a guilty conscience or bruised ego caused by her rejection of him, he begins to hate her.

I can identify with Amnon in the sense that my humiliation can easily breed contempt for those who’ve witnessed it. But what’s interesting about his response is the Septuagint translators’ use what most of us consider extremes: ἀγαπάω (agapeo, “to love”) and μισέω (miseo, “to hate”). (The forms specifically used in the Greek are ἠγάπησεν, ἀγαπῶ, ἀγάπην in vv. 1, 4, and 15 and ἐμίσησεν and μῖσος in v. 15.) These are exactly the same words used to contrast God’s conduct toward Jacob and Esau, by Paul in Romans 9:13 (ἠγάπησα and ἐμίσησα in the Nestlé-Aland 26) and by Malachi in 1:2 (ἠγάπησα in the LXX). In no way do I mean to suggest that “love” and “hate” can’t each have a variety of meanings, but that that the words, as used in other Bible passages contextualize Amnon’s radical change in feelings.

For Christians, “love” and “hatred” are extremely powerful words, used throughout both the Old and New Testments. God is a great hater of our sin, but our salvation is made possible by God’s great love for us (e.g., John 3:16). It’s amazing to think that someone might love someone else so completely and yet still turn against them. We are repeatedly told not to hate but to love each other, and this becomes a lesson on changing our attitudes about those we already have ill feelings towards, such as our enemies (e.g., ἀγαπᾶτε and μισοῦσιν in Luke 6:27). However, I’m beginning to realize how important it is to protect those we love from our hatred also. That might be the point behind Colossians 3:19 & 21, which tells husbands not to be harsh with their wives and fathers not to provoke their children. A man might deeply love his family, but that love won’t necessarily stop him from hurting them physically or emotionally. Amnon, despite being one of the most unpopular Bible characters, can serve as a constant reminder that those we love are also in danger of being hated by us.