When we last looked at ספר שמואל, the rebellion of Sheva ben Bichri had been cut short (literally) by the אשה חכמה:
That is the last narrative in ספר שמואל, and the chapter concludes with a summary of David’s royal administration:
We’ve seen this summary before, at the end of פרק ח and the wars that David fought to establish his empire:
This illustrates the point that we’ve made before, that ספר שמואל divides into what I’m calling three seasons (with some “special episodes” between them) ; season two is the rise of David, ending in פרק ח, and season three is the story of bat Sheva and its aftermath, ending in פרק כ. The
author assumes we’ve read פרק ח and are aware of the differences between the lists. It’s not so much a difference of time as a difference in perspective.
When you read our chapter this way, it is dripping with irony. The original list starts with וימלך דוד על כל ישראל. That’s completely gone now. Now we have ויואב שב ירושלם אל המלך. Yoav, who had been fired as chief of staff in פרק יט and murdered his replacement earlier in this chapter, remains as head of the army. David does not have the political strength to remove him. He may be המלך, but we can’t say וימלך דוד.
David is in effect not in charge. We have the hint here of the political jockeying between יואב and בניהו, though we don’t have much in the way of details. After David’s death, יואב will support Adoniyah and בניהו will support Shlomo, and בניהו will kill יואב and assume control of the army. But now we just have the two of them, in parallel sections of the same verse.
And the irony is even greater when we look at ויכרתו את ראש שבע בן בכרי וישלכו אל יואב. David’s rise started with cutting off the head of his enemy:
But now, it’s not David but יואב who parades through Jerusalem with the head of Sheva ben Bichri.
Other changes are notable. Before, ובני דוד כהנים היו (not in the religious sense, but “ministers”). After the stories of Amnon and Avshalom, David’s sons are not part of the administration. Now we have עירא היארי היה כהן לדוד. At the פשט level, this is parallel; עירא היארי was a minister in David’s administration, not like צדוק ואביתר כהנים who were the כהנים גדולים in Givon and Jerusalem. But חז״ל saw a hint that עירא was a literal כהן as well, and that was a problem:
There is a hint here of David turning inward, confusing his religious needs rather than those of the kingdom as a whole. That was part of the problem that led to the affair of Bat Sheva; as the gemara says (סנהדרין קז,א), אמר לפניו: רבש״ע מפני מה אומרים ”אלקי אברהם אלקי יצחק ואלקי יעקב“ ואין אומרים ”אלקי דוד“?
Most of the rest of the list is the same, with a מזכיר and a ספר; we won’t deal with changes in כהן list from צדוק ואחימלך to צדוק ואביתרץ But there’s a new role: ואדרם על המס. What is a מס? We only see it defined in ספר מלכים:
In ספר שמואל, we haven’t mentioned much about how David built Jerusalem (and presumably other cities); the buildings just happened:
But he clearly needed some kind of משרד הבינוי והשיכון, and here we have a hint that it exists. We’ve pointed out before that there are whole aspects of David that we never see.
We have four books that give us stories of דוד המלך: שמואל, מלכים (in small parts), דברי הימים and תהילים. Each gives us one facet of the complex person that the historical David must have been.
The story of David as master builder, the Robert Moses of tenth century BCE Israel, has yet to be written. But the מס, the levy that JPS translates as “forced labor”, seems to have been an innovation of David’s. And it will be an important part of the split of the kingdom under his grandson:
This all makes ספר שמואל very depressing. Everything is going wrong. It’s not a pleasant place to end. But fortunately, there are four more chapters of appendices to go through, some even more horrific than what we’ve seen so far, and some introducing us to the David of ספר תהילים, the נעים זמרות ישראל. And we will end the book with (שמואל ב כד:כה) ויבן שם דוד מזבח לה׳ ויעל עלות ושלמים: David will see the beginning of the fulfilment of his one dream, the building of the בית המקדש.
To complement that, I want to look at a perek of תהילים that builds on the terrible things that happened to David, and creates a psalm of hope.
What’s interesting is that this is simply a collage of two perakim that we’ve looked at before:
The original perakim are not happy תהילים; as Radak says, תהילים פרק ס is an elegy for the lost war against Aram:
And תהילים פרק נז is more personal but still tragic, about the period in David’s life when he was on the run from Saul:
But what this perek does is take the ends of those two perakim, the hopeful, prayerful parts, and turns them into a joyous celebration:
We’ve talked before about David as the archetype of תשובה מאהבה, which in Rav Shagar’s formulation means אהבת החטא והחוטא: acceptance that the past was part of ה׳'s plan, that allows us to grow into the people we are today. Being a בעל תשובה doesn’t mean rejecting the past; it means building on it.
This perek is similar. Where in the original context, לי גלעד לי מנשה ואפרים was a cry about the lands that had been lost, now it is simply a statement of David’s rule. And על אדום אשליך נעלי…מי נחני עד אדום was a question: who will lead me against Edom that has caused such destruction? Now it is an acknowledgement of ה׳'s help:
David is taking the past of הלא אלקים זנחתנו and declaring the future of באלקים נעשה חיל. Beyond all the tragedy, all the failure that we see in ספר שמואל, there is always hope.