I think that 2 Samuel 16-17 is central to the Absalom story. This is the part where David goes into exile. How do we exegete this section? Well if I am looking at an Old Testament passage, here’s how I would approach it.
- I would copy the text into Word. I may then also break it down so that there is a clause on each line.
- I would then start to annotate it. Some people prefer to print off the text and do this manually.
Here are the sorts of things I would be looking for. These are the things I would highlight/ underline/ annotate.
- Words and phrases that are repeated. First of all I am looking for words and phrases that get repeated throughout the passage
- I also look out for words and phrases that may or may not be used frequently in the passage but are also used regularly throughout the wider context.
- I look for how sections are connected, words and phrases like therefore, because, so that, for give me a sense of the logical flow of the passage.
- I look for patterns in conversation, who says what, who is silent?
- I look at the types of verbs used. When does an indicative switch to an imperative.?
- I look at the amount of space and attention given to an incident. Does the author spend a lot of time on it?
- I look for patterns and devices such as chiasms and parallelism.
Looking at 2 Samuel 16- 17, here are a couple of things I picked up on using the ESV as a reasonably formal translation.
- In the introductory section of ch 16 when Ziba shows up on the scene, there is an elaborate repetition of the provisions brought by Ziba (v1-2). These are provisions for those weary in the wilderness. Perhaps there are echoes here of David’s declaration in Psalm 23 that the Lord prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies.
- The repeated word in v 5 – 14 is curse, David accepts the curse as just and from God.
- Shimei is a Benjaminite and he emphasises what he perceives and injustice against the House of Saul. This links in with the question raised in the first few verses as to whether Saul’s dynasty and the fortunes of Benjamin will now be restored.
- From 16:15 – 17:15 the dominant word changes to “counsel” as Absalom receives competing and contradictory advice from Ahitophel and Hushai.
- In the wider context the Shimei and Mephibosheth/Ziba incidents are reprised on David’s return to Jerusalem later. This is almost chiastic in form. David’s vulnerability is encircled by the question of his dynasty’s future and the renewed threat from the houses of Saul. David continues to submit to God’s will in the matter.
So, the dominant themes are
- That David is in exile and under curse but at the same time, just as God’s people were provided for in the wilderness, God provides for David through Ziba,
- That Absalom’s counsel is confused. Note that we are protected from being diverted here. The issue is not about what type of advice, good or bad we turn to. 17:14 guides us here as suddenly and rarely in this section we are confronted with God’s will on the matter. Negatively, we are reminded that Absalom is being set up for tragedy not success. This is part of the discipline David is under as his sons turn against each other and him and as 4 of them meet their premature deaths. More positively, David’s discipline is not an opening for his enemies to prosper. God will protect his chosen king and keep his promise to him.
I would therefore suggest that the counsel theme is a sub theme. The primary focus is on David under curse and exile. The theme of this section is that God brings curse and exile in response to sin. These are Biblical Theology themes which go back to Eden.
This means we can move to application and the response expected from hearers. Our trust is in Christ, the true King who bore the curse, shame and exile of death, the penalty for our sin. Doctrinally this points us towards Penal Substitution, Faith Union, Justification and Imputed Righteousness. Gospel wise it calls us to repentance and faith in Christ. In terms of worship, we are motivated to trust and rejoicing in Christ our wonderful and beautiful saviour. Pastorally, we can
– Bear the just discipline we receive knowing that God is a good father who disciplines those he loves. Because of Christ’s substitution, we know that our discipline is for our good, it is restorative not penal.
– Patiently endure suffering knowing that we have a great example in Christ who suffered without complaint. We also have a Great High Priest who is not unable to sympathise with our sufferings.
Careful attention both to the detailed text of the passage and its context will reward the Bible student and preacher with rich and relevant application.