What is at stake for the various characters in this story – for David, king of Israel; Ziba, servant of [the late] Saul; Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, son of Saul – as the story unfolds? What choices do we see them making? What context, of expectations, and obligations, and interests, shapes those choices? We’re studying 2 Samuel 9:1-12 for Sunday, December 12. We might notice that there is an intense human drama unfolding in this superficially “little” story about a king’s magnanimity to a survivor of the dynasty he has replaced. The main question for us is probably what that intense human drama has to say to us. [A few notes on the text are here.] Here are a couple more questions we might want to ask ourselves or discuss in class:
One way of thinking about this text is as a “story from the life of David.” David is a big character in the Bible, and most of us have prior impressions or images of David. What are those, where have we gathered them (e.g., from Sunday school, church, etc.), and how do they seem to influence our reading of this story? Do our prior impressions seem to deepen our understanding of the story? Or, the opposite? What do we notice about that?
One way to think of Ziba’s position in v2 is to notice that he served the family of Saul. Saul was the former king of Israel, who has been surpassed by David, and whose son and heir Ishbosheth has just been killed in a long struggle for succession. Now Ziba, the servant of that ex-king, is being asked about the [evidently secret] whereabouts of Saul’s last remaining relative by the new king. If we were in Ziba’s position, what would be going through our minds? What do we think we ourselves would do, in that position? Why? What would our own thought process be?
We might want to think about the position each of the other characters is in, as well, and what we would be thinking, and what we might choose to do, in each of those positions. Which choices would we describe as “faithful”? Hopeful? Which ones “make the world better”? Do we think? Because … why?
Do we learn anything from thinking about this Biblical story this way, do we think? What?
[Perhaps obviously, we almost certainly do not think about things exactly the same way Biblical characters would. We are different from them in many, many ways. And yet, we can assume they are human, as we are, and must make choices, as we must. And they choose for or against specific things, with specific consequences, just as we do. So thinking about how we ourselves would choose, what we would trust and affirm and hope for, in a similar situation is probably not the worst thing to do with a story like this. At a minimum, it gives the text an opportunity to teach us something about ourselves.]
Where and how do we see chesed, steadfast covenant love, at work in this story?
Where and how do we see “justice” at work in this story? [“Justice” is one of the recurring themes for us in these winter quarter lessons.]
Where and how do we see God at work in this story?
Does seeing God at work in this story help us see God at work in the world around us? How, or where? What impact does seeing that have on us?
Overall, this seems like a good lesson in the contrast between a couple of different ways to think about the Bible. One way is as a set of simple, black-and-white, all-or-nothing stories about exemplary characters, cardboard cutouts of virtue or vice. My guess is that many of us have some experience with this way of thinking about the Bible, maybe from Sunday school, maybe from a particular and understandably popular style of commentary. Another way is as a set of messy, complicated stories full of decidedly difficult and messy characters, who are sometimes virtuous, sometimes vicious, sometimes transcend themselves, sometimes fail to, and always in all of that God caring about and working on the situation and the next act and looking ahead to the act after that … I believe the choice is ours, but by now you have probably guessed which way I lean.
Image: “Figures in Conversation – Étaples,” Leslie Hunter, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons