Sunday School Lesson 24: 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51
Posted by Jim F. on June 27, 2010
2 Samuel 11
Verse 1: What do you make of the fact that the story is set at the time of the year when “kings go forth to battle,” but David sent his army to battle and stayed behind himself? What is the writer telling us about David when he says “But David tarried still at Jerusalem”? (Note: presumably the time when battles could once again commence was at the end of the rainy season, approximately the beginning of May.)
Verses 2-5: How do you suppose that David could see Bathsheba bathing? Where do you think people would usually have bathed? How do you think David’s house was situated relative to the other houses? What does verse 4 suggest about why she was bathing? Why is it significant that Uriah was a Hittite (or, more likely, descended from an earlier Hittite immigrant)? Who were the Hittites? The Hittite empire was no more at this time, so what does it mean to call Uriah a Hittite? Since the name Uriah means “the Lord is light,” he appears to be an Israelite, though calling him a Hittite makes him a foreigner. Do you think that might have had anything to do with the way that David dealt with him? How is verse 4 ironic? What would the punishment be if Bathsheba were found to be pregnant and, therefore, to have committed adultery? Does Bathsheba betray her husband willingly? In other words, given David’s position of authority, was this a case of adultery or of rape? What evidence in the story can you adduce for your answer? Does David intend to continue the relation after his initial encounter with Bathsheba?
Verses 6-11: What is David trying to do in these verses? What is his ostensible reason for summoning Uriah? What is his real reason? Why did David send Uriah a “mess,” literally, a gift?
Though the gift was probably of food (compare Genesis 43:34), the words “of meat” are added by the translators; that is why they are in italics. At the time of the King James translation, the word mess meant “what is set before you” (from the French mets), so it meant “a serving of food.” It is where we get the phrase “mess hall.”
It may be that men in battle were expected to abstain from sexual intercourse. (See Deuteronomy 23:10 and 1 Samuel 21:5.) How would that explain the encounter between David and Uriah? If that is true, would there be any advantage to David to have Uriah break the law (beyond making it possible to attribute the pregnancy to him)? How does Uriah’s behavior (verses 9-11) contrast with David’s? Why do you think he stayed in the guardroom at the king’s door rather than going home?
Verse 13: Why does David make Uriah drunk? Does that make what David is doing even more tawdry?
Verse 14: What do you make of the fact that David has Uriah carry the letter ordering Uriah’s own death to Joab?
Verse 15: Specifically what does David ask Joab to do? How does this compare with his treatment of Saul in 1 Samuel 24? Why does David want Uriah killed? Had Uriah lived, could he have prosecuted David for adultery / rape? How has David changed? What do you think accounts for this change?
Verses 16-17, 20: What does Joab do instead? How do you explain the difference? What would David’s plan have cost the army? What would it have cost Joab? What does Joab’s action cost the army? What does it cost him? How many people has David had killed so that he can have Bathsheba?
Verse 19: Why does Joab think that David will be angry?
Verses 20, 23-24: The servant doesn’t follow Joab’s instructions. Why not? What does he do instead? What are both he and Joab afraid of? What does that suggest?
Verses 25-26: What is disgusting about David’s message to Joab? Compare David’s response to the news of Uriah’s death with Bathsheba’s. What does this comparison show?
Verse 27: In particular, what displeased the Lord? Literally, the text says that “David did evil in the sight of the Lord.” The word translated evil can also mean “injury” (e.g., Jeremiah 39:12), “distress” (e.g., Amos 6:3), or “disaster” (e.g., Isaiah 45:7). Has the Lord’s prediction of what would happen to Israel if it had a king come true? How?
2 Samuel 12
Verses 1-7: Notice that the ability of the prophets to rebuke the kings makes Israel different than other ancient societies. What does that say about the structure of Israelite society? About Israelite values? Does it teach us anything about the cultures in which we live? In David’s mind, how serious is the oppression that he hears about in Nathan’s story? How does David describe the rich man who has taken the pet lamb? What do you make of the difference in punishment decreed in verse 5 and that decreed in verse 6? What does verse 7 tell us about Nathan?
Verse 9: How many of the Ten Commandments did David break. How does David’s disobedience mean that he despises (i.e., has contempt for) the Lord? Is all disobedience contempt? If not, why not? If so, how so?
Verses 10-11: David decreed that the rich man must make a fourfold restitution. Does the writer intend us to see the death’s of three of David’s children (Bathsheba’s baby, Amnon [2 Samuel 13:29], Absalom [2 Samuel 18:14]—and Tamar’s fate was equivalent to death in ancient Israel [2 Samuel 13:20]) as any kind of parallel? In any case, what are we to make of this kind of decree? Does God punish us by causing evil to happen to us?
Verse 13: What does it mean to say that the Lord has put away (literally “gone beyond”) David’s sin? Does it mean that David will not be punished? (See D&C 132:39.) What else can it mean?
This verse contains a translation problem. The Hebrew literally says that David blasphemed the enemies of the Lord. Trying to deal with that, the King James translators changed the text so that it says David caused the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. However, most scholars believe that the Hebrew text we have was “corrected” by a scribe or that an error was made in copying. They assume that the text originally said that David blasphemed the Lord. Why do you think they make that assumption? How did David blaspheme the Lord? Many believe that the verse as we have it was added by later editors. How does whoever wrote this verse see the world differently than we?
Verse 18: What do the court officials fear David will do when he hears that the child is dead? Why might they think that?
Verse 20: The Law of Moses forbids washing and anointing oneself and changing clothing during mourning. Why do you think David does these things? Why does he cease to mourn for the child before the time of mourning is over?
Verse 23: When David says “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me,” what does he mean?
Verse 24-25: David names Bathsheba’s second child Solomon, “peaceful.” (See 1 Chronicles 22:9.) However, some contemporary scholars argue that the name may actually mean “his replacement.” Either way, why do you think David gave him that name? Nathan gives him another name, Jedidiah or “beloved of the Lord.” Why do you think Nathan gives him that name?
Verse 28: What point is Joab making here? How does what he says relate to what we learned in verse 1?
Verse 30: It is possible that “their king” should have been translated “Milcom” or “Moloch,” the name of the Ammonite god. If so, David’s behavior violates the Law (cf. Deuteronomy 7:25-26). A talent is approximately 60 pounds. Why would David have placed a 60-pound crown on his head?
Verse 31: What did David do to the captives? (Compare 2 Samuel 8:2.)
The heading was added by later scribes, so it doesn’t establish that David was, indeed, the author of this psalm—though he may have been. Though the psalm is about sin, it isn’t necessarily about the specific sin of David—though it may be.
The literal translation of the last part of the heading would be “When Nathan the prophet came unto him [David] as he had gone into Bathsheba.” How do these two events compare to one another. Why would David preface the psalm with that comparison?
The general structure of the psalm is (1) 1-2: the theme of the psalm—an appeal for mercy and to be made clean; (2) 3-4: appeal for mercy; (3) 5-8: confession of sin; (4) 9-14: request to be made clean and promise to praise; (5) 15-19: vow to sacrifice; (6) 20-21: prayer for Jerusalem.
The writer is praying for mercy (chesed) and loving kindness (racham). Chesed occurs frequently in the Old Testament and is difficult to translate into English. (See the notes on Ruth, Lesson 20.) It can be translated “mercy” or “grace,” and it implies steadfast love. Racham is an intensive form of a word that in its other uses means “womb” or “bowels.” Why would a word that means “womb” or “bowels” in Hebrew come to mean “compassion”?
What are mercy, grace, and compassion? Why do we need them in our relations with each other? in our relation with God?
We could translate “blot out my transgressions” as “expunge my rebellions” or “undo my covenant-breaking.” What is the suppliant asking for? What does this tell us about repentance and forgiveness? The Hebrew word translated “sin” here (meaning “rebellion” or “covenant-breaking”) (see 2 Kings 3:4-5), also occurs also verse 3, where it is translated “transgressions.”
How is sin rebellion? How is it covenant-breaking? Is all sin covenant-breaking? Is it all rebellion?
Verse 2: The writer has spoken of forgiveness in terms of having mercy, blotting out, washing, and cleansing. Why does he use so many different words for forgiveness (and also for sin)?
Verse 3: Why is it important that the petitioner acknowledge his sin? The word translated “acknowledge” is, literally, “know.” In what sense does someone asking for forgiveness know her sin in a way that she didn’t know it before?
Verse 4: Could David say that he has sinned only against God? Didn’t he also sin against at least Uriah and perhaps also Bathsheba? If this psalm were written by David, how could he say this? If we assume that “done this evil in thy sight” is parallel to “my sin is ever before me” in verse 3, the writer is saying that what he did, he did with God watching. What point is he making about sin?
Verse 5: What is the point of this verse? Is the writer making excuses for what he did, or is something else going on here? Even those scholars who believe in the doctrine of original sin don’t believe that this verse is about original sin? But if it isn’t, what is it about?
Verse 6: What does it mean to say that the Lord “desires truth in the inward parts”?
Verse 7: The word translated “purge” means literally “unsin.” What is the import of the word “unsin”? What is hyssop? How was it used? (See Exodus 12:22, Numbers 19:6, and Leviticus 14:4.) What do these parallels tell us about how the writer understands his sin?
Verse 8: What does the writer mean when he asks the Lord to make him hear joy and gladness? What is he talking about when he refers to his broken or crushed bones?
Verse 10: Why does he have to ask for a clean heart and a right spirit? Why can’t he make his own heart clean and renew his own spirit? What does that teach us about our own sins?
Verse 11: What does it mean to be cast from the presence of God? How do we enter into that presence?
Verse 12: Another translation of the second half of this verse is: “Let a willing spirit uphold me,” a request to have a spirit that responds willingly to what is right. Which translation do you think is more consonant with the Gospel?
Verse 13: What reason does the writer give for why he should be forgiven?
Verse 14: What is the righteousness of the Lord that the writer will sing about?
Verse 15: Why would the Lord have to open the writer’s lips? Can’t he praise God if he has not been forgiven? Why or why not?
Verses 16, 19: Why does the writer say that the Lord doesn’t want sacrifices in verse 16 and then, in verse 19, speak of him accepting legitimate or righteous sacrifices? In these verses, how does the writer understand the connection between keeping the commandments and the sacrifices of the temple? Compare Psalm 50:7-14.
Verses 18-19: What does this prayer for the temple have to do with the preceding prayer for forgiveness? Some believe that these verses were added later, as a prayer for the restoration of the Temple after its destruction by the Babylonians. If so, then the person adding them took the psalm to be not only an expression of individual remorse, but also an expression of Israel’s collective remorse. How is it legitimate to understand the scriptures to apply to more than one event?
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