2 Samuel 16 – “David’s Decline”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Ziba supports David and accuses Mephibosheth of treason. David shows restraint when Shimei hurls epithets and stones at him. Absalom sleeps with David’s concubines in Jerusalem.

II. Photo
Absalom cuckolds his father: “So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom lay with his father’s concubines with the full knowledge of all Israel.” (v. 22)

III. Important Verses
3-4: “And where is your master’s son?” the king asked. “He is staying in Jerusalem,” Ziba replied to the king, “for he thinks that the House of Israel will now give him back the throne of his grandfather.” The king said to Ziba, “Then all that belongs to Mephibosheth is now yours!” And Ziba replied, “I bow low. Your Majesty is most gracious to me.”
5-8: As King David was approaching Bahurim, a member of Saul’s clan — a man named Shimei son of Gera — came out from there, hurling insults as he came. He threw stones at David and all King David’s courtiers, while all the troops and all the warriors were at his right and his left. And these are the insults that Shimei hurled: “Get out, get out, you criminal, you villain! The LORD is paying you back for all your crimes against the family of Saul, whose throne you seized. The LORD is handing over the throne to your son Absalom; you are in trouble because you are a criminal!”
11-12: David said further to Abishai and all the courtiers, “If my son, my own issue, seeks to kill me, how much more the Benjaminite! Let him go on hurling abuse, for the LORD has told him to. Perhaps the LORD will look upon my punishment and recompense me for the abuse [Shimei] has uttered today.”
20-22: Absalom then said to Ahithophel, “What do you advise us to do?” And Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Have intercourse with your father’s concubines, whom he left to mind the palace; and when all Israel hears that you have dared the wrath of your father, all who support you will be encouraged.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom lay with his father’s concubines with the full knowledge of all Israel.

IV. Outline
1-4. Ziba helps David and accuses Mephibosheth of treason
5-8. Shimei insults David
9-14. David continues his travels allowing Shimei to go unharmed
15-19. Hushai joins Absalom’s ranks
20-22. Absalom sleeps with David’s concubines
23. Praise of Ahitophel

V. Comment
Chapter 16 relates the difficulties of David’s escape. He is informed that Mephibosheth has joined Absalom, is cursed by Shimei, and is cuckolded by his own son. It ends with praise for Ahitophel, the sage who abandoned David to join Absalom.

Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth is referred to in vv. 1-4. There is some confusion about this name because of 2 Samuel 21:8: “Instead, the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons that Rizpah daughter of Aiah bore to Saul…” Was Mephibosheth the son of Saul, the son of Jonathan, or were there two Mephiboshethes? Anderson writes:”Veijola (RB 85 [1978] 352) asserts that all those passages which speak of Mephibosheth as Jonathan’s son (2 Sam 4:4; 9:3, 6, 7; 21:7) are not authentic. He regards them as a product of a redactor who sought to stress David’s loyalty to Jonathan. Veijola has presented a good case although his literary analysis will not convince everyone. One may also note that Veijola’s view gives an undue importance to Mephibosheth, Saul’s son. He and his brother Armoni were the sons of Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, and they were put to death at the same time (2 Sam 21:8), but if one of them was such a potential danger to David that he had to be called to Jerusalem (Veijola, 350), why not both? The argument would be more acceptable if the reference was to Jonathan’s son. Furthermore, Armoni may have been the elder brother since he is mentioned first, and therefore the greater threat to David, assuming that the sons of a concubine could inherit. Moreover, it does not seem likely that Jonathan had no son, and that also the genealogy in 1 Chr 8:33–34 is wrong. Hence it is easier to assume that Jonathan’s son had the same name as one of Saul’s sons; for an analogy see 2 Sam 13:1; 14:27 where “Tamar” is the name of Absalom’s sister as well as of his daughter.” (69)

What is the meaning of the name ”Mephibosheth”? Anderson writes: “Mephibosheth may be a deliberate distortion of the original name by substituting one element of the compound proper name by ‘bosheth’ meaning ‘shame’ (see Driver, 254). However, some scholars regard ‘bosheth’ as a divine epithet… The former alternative is more likely because in the Books of Chronicles we find what appears to be the original form of the proper name. There are two variants: Meribaal in 1 Chr 9:40 and Meribbaal in 1 Chr 8:34; 9:40. The former variant may be derived from the latter (so Tsevat), meaning, perhaps, ‘Baal contends.” (69-70)

Absalom sleeps with his father’s concubines in v. 22: “So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom lay with his father’s concubines with the full knowledge of all Israel.” What was the status of a concubine in Biblical Israel? Although the evidence is scarce, scholars such as Anson Rainey attempt to piece together a coherent picture. He writes: “The term in Hebrew is pilegesh, the equivalent of Greek pallakis… and Latin pellex… The legal formalities, if any, are not described in the Bible. A concubine did not always reside in her husband’s home (Judg. 8:31), but such was not the general rule (Judg. 19–20). Her spouse was called the son-inlaw (hatan) of her father, who was the father-in-law (hoten). Therefore, the concubinage relationship could partake of many aspects of regular marriage… Royal concubines were standard among the kings of Israel and Judah, just as in any ancient Near Eastern kingdom (Song 6:8–9). They were clearly distinguished from the wives (II Sam. 5:13; I Kings 11:13; II Chron. 11:21). To lie with a monarch’s concubine was tantamount to usurpation of the throne (II Sam. 3:7; 16:21–22). For this reason Abner took Rizpah (II Sam. 3:7). The same concept stands behind Ahitophel’s advice to Absalom, to “go into his father’s concubines” (16:21), and Adonijah’s request for Abishag the Shunamite was clearly associated with this custom (I Kings 2:21–24).” (Rainey, Anson. “Concubine” in Encyclopaedia Judaica 2nd ed)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Anderson, A. A. “2 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Waco Texas: Wordbooks, 1989).
Campbell, Antony F. “2 Samuel” The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, vol 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eedrdmans, 2005).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Rainey, Anson. “Concubine” in Encyclopaedia Judaica 2nd ed.
Photo taken from http://www.quikbook.com/pics/affinia_chicago_rooftop_176.jpg