13 October 2015

David's Concubine: False Victory

2 Samuel 16:20-22

Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Go in to your father’s concubines, the ones he has left to look after the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened." (2. Samuel 16:21)

You stand before me.
I know what you want.
I know what you will do to me.
Conquer me, and you conquer your father.
Take me, and you bring him shame.
Take me, and you prove your power,
seal your victory.

You stand before me.
I know what you want.
But pity fills me, not fear.
Can you overcome your father
by repeating his mistakes?
Do you think you'll avenge your sister
by inflicting on me her shame?
Will you truly reach your goals
or fall lower than before?

You stand before me.
You think this will make you a man.
You think this will make you a king.
You think this will prove
your power and authority.
You stand before me
but all I see
is a scarred little boy
afraid and insecure.

You stand before me.
I know what you will do to me.
You will shame me and hurt me
but greater will be
the harm and the shame
that you bring upon yourself.


[13. October 2015]

When Absalom came to power - managing to put his father David to flight and take over Jerusalem - one of the things he did was sleep with David's concubines. From a modern Western perspective that might seem odd behaviour - back then it was a demonstration of power. By stealing David's concubines, Absalom showed publicly that he was more powerful. Also, remember ancient Israel was a shame culture: what Absalom did put David quite deeply to shame. It was a quite personal attack.

When I think of this story, I always think of how God told David it would happen. It was all part of the consequences of David's fling with Bathsheba:
Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before you reyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. (2 Samuel 12:11-12)
I don't view these things as "punishment" in the sense of some external thing that God causes; I see it more as consequences that flow from sinful actions. Often the way God punishes, I believe, is that He does not protect us from the consequences of our own actions. David took Bathsheba - after that, things started going crazy in his family with David's son Amnon raping his half-sister Thamar (2 Sam 13) and then Absalom's uprising (starting with his revenge against Amnon) .

David's family started falling apart as a consequence of what he did with Bathsheba (adultery and rape - no good example). All these happenings would have had effects on Absalom as he grew up. First the story with Bathsheba, then Absalom's sister being tricked and raped by her own half-brother, then David's failure to react properly to the situation.

But is what Absalom does really the solution? Isn't he just continuing the cycle? Sure, this was part of David's punishment from God (i.e. he deserved it), but what does this do for Absalom? Does such a display of power reallly give him what he needs, does it give him satisfaction? I imagine Absalom as being lost and disappointed after all the things that went wrong in David's family. But his disappointment won't be remedied by his continuing the cycle of sexual violence.

My colleagues must think I'm crazy... today I burst into the office for the second time during my holidays... all I needed was to quickly grab a pen because my head was so full of ideas for this poem and another one, and the office was the nearest place with a pen at that moment! Wrote most of this on the road... while walking...

Picture by Mario Borgoni

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