picture of the area of tekoa

This is an exercise in “gap filling” in the story of David and the Tekoite Woman. While this has nothing to do with ecology, it has everything to do with the study of Old Testament – in particular narrative criticism.

NASB text 2 Sam 14:

Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was inclined toward Absalom. 2 So Joab sent to Tekoa and brought a wise woman from there and said to her, “Please pretend to be a mourner, and put on mourning garments now, and do not anoint yourself with oil, but be like a woman who has been mourning for the dead many days; 3 then go to the king and speak to him in this manner.” So Joab put the words in her mouth. 4 Now when the woman of Tekoa spoke to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and prostrated herself and said, “Help, O king.” 5 The king said to her, “What is your trouble?” And she answered, “Truly I am a widow, for my husband is dead. 6 “Your maidservant had two sons, but the two of them struggled together in the field, and there was no one to separate them, so one struck the other and killed him. 7 “Now behold, the whole family has risen against your maidservant, and they say, ‘Hand over the one who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed, and destroy the heir also.’ Thus they will extinguish my coal which is left, so as to leave my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.” 8 Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.” 9 The woman of Tekoa said to the king, “O my lord, the king, the iniquity is on me and my father’s house, but the king and his throne are guiltless.” 10 So the king said, “Whoever speaks to you, bring him to me, and he will not touch you anymore.” 11 Then she said, “Please let the king remember the LORD your God, so that the avenger of blood will not continue to destroy, otherwise they will destroy my son.” And he said, “As the LORD lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.” 12 Then the woman said, “Please let your maidservant speak a word to my lord the king.” And he said, “Speak.” 13 The woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not bring back his banished one. 14 “For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from him. 15 “Now the reason I have come to speak this word to my lord the king is that the people have made me afraid; so your maidservant said, ‘Let me now speak to the king, perhaps the king will perform the request of his maidservant. 16 ‘For the king will hear and deliver his maidservant from the hand of the man who would destroy both me and my son from the inheritance of God.’ 17 “Then your maidservant said, ‘Please let the word of my lord the king be comforting, for as the angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and evil. And may the LORD your God be with you.'” 18 Then the king answered and said to the woman, “Please do not hide anything from me that I am about to ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king please speak.” 19 So the king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” And the woman replied, “As your soul lives, my lord the king, no one can turn to the right or to the left from anything that my lord the king has spoken. Indeed, it was your servant Joab who commanded me, and it was he who put all these words in the mouth of your maidservant; 20 in order to change the appearance of things your servant Joab has done this thing. But my lord is wise, like the wisdom of the angel of God, to know all that is in the earth.” 21 Then the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I will surely do this thing; go therefore, bring back the young man Absalom.” 22 Joab fell on his face to the ground, prostrated himself and blessed the king; then Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, O my lord, the king, in that the king has performed the request of his servant.” 23

Instead of being confronted by a prophet with a message that he is to follow, he is confronted by a woman – not a prophet to whom he should listen. This detail should raise a flag in the reader’s head. Then, there is no word from YHWH as when Nathan confronted David, the woman’s words are from Joab. From the narrator’s position Joab is not a character who one should listen to for advice – he is deceitful, and oversteps the bounds of his position (commanding David, changing the orders, etc).

Is the woman’s story true? Elizabeth Bellefontaine (“Customary Law and Chieftainship”) thinks that it is a real story, or at least based on truth. J. Hoftjizer (“David and the Tekoite Woman”) thinks otherwise. Hoftjizer understands this to be a parable like what Nathan told, so purely fictional. I would agree that it looks like a parallel situation, so the parable may indeed be fictional – the point being to get the King to take action.

Does David respond to the Absalom situation in the way that the Narrator thinks is appropriate? Both Bellafontaine and Hoftijzer think that David’s response is correct (according to the Narrator). Yet, William H. Propp disagrees (“Kinship in 2 Samuel 13”). He thinks the evidence that David makes the wrong choice plays out in the rest of the narrative as Absalom incites rebellion against David (50). He concludes:

“By this reading, the parable of the wise woman of Tekoa is ironic. Despite Joab’s and her own intentions, she shows David (and careful readers) the only solution to his problems: killing Absalom. But the king misses his chance, and as a consequence calamity will adhere to David and his family until after the king’s death.”  52

Claudia V. Camp (“The Wise Women of 2 Samuel”) thinks that the Woman’s speech contains a proverb – v14 “For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again.” In other words, the king’s decision cannot be undone. The consequences will come, and will be irreversible.

I think that this narrative scene gives evidence that David is listening to the wrong voices. Instead of inquiring of YHWH what to do in this situation, he listens to Joab’s council. Just as my paper “Joab Commanded King David” attempts to show, David is no longer pleasing YHWH in his decisions. When David finds out that the woman has been put up to this by Joab, David applauds them both and agrees to do what they say. This is a very different reaction than he gave when Nathan confronted him, on behalf of God, about his sin…

The narrator/author’s strategy is furthered here in this text by showing that David is in decline. He himself cannot compare to the standard that God has set for the kingship – indeed promised in the future. So, here the reader begins to wonder, which one of David’s successors will fulfill the prophecy and become what YHWH has promised in 2 Samuel 7? I think the answer for us Christians is that only Christ will fulfill this prophecy.

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