Women in the Heart of God (3b)

The Data From the Monarchy Literature


(Updated: 10/08/96)
In this period, we have THREE sources of primary data: the historical data in the narratives/literature between the institution of the Kingship (in I Samuel 8) and the division of the kingdom after Solomon (approx I Kgs 12), the literary data within those texts, and the portrayal of women in the "leisure" literature of the period (e.g. Psalms and Wisdom books). In this section, we will focus on the LITERARY data in the historical portions of the texts.

Two: The LITERARY Data from the Monarchy-period narratives.

There are six passages involving women which stand out in the text, in such a way as to suggest an emphasis on the women (either as role models or as foils against which to denigrate the men):

  1. The account of Abigail

  2. The Rape of Tamar

  3. The loyalty of Rizpah

  4. The words of Bathsheba

  5. The words of the Sage-women

  6. The Victory Song of David and Saul
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  1. The account of Abigail

    Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon. 2 A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. 3 His name was Nabal and his wife's name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings. 4 While David was in the desert, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. 5 So he sent ten young men and said to them, "Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: `Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! 7 "`Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. 8 Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my young men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.'" 9 When David's men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David's name. Then they waited. 10 Nabal answered David's servants, "Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?" 12 David's men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, "Put on your swords!" So they put on their swords, and David put on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. 14 One of the servants told Nabal's wife Abigail: "David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him." 18 Abigail lost no time. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, "Go on ahead; I'll follow you." But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. 21 David had just said, "It's been useless -- all my watching over this fellow's property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!" 23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: "My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. 25 May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name -- his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent. 26 "Now since the LORD has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal. 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you. 28 Please forgive your servant's offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the LORD's battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, 31 my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD has brought my master success, remember your servant." 32 David said to Abigail, "Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak." 35 Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, "Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request." (I Sam 25.1-35)
    The entire chapter 25 is devoted to the story of Abigail and Nabal. The above portion details the interactions between the three; the rest of the chapter tells of how Nabal dies of a heart attack (stroke?) and how David and Abigail are married.

    We have already looked at the characteristics of the historical events--here we wish to note its role in the text.

    Commentators have been quite puzzled by this passage; it is sandwiched in between two chapters dealing with Saul, and Saul does not even show up in the passage until the last verse and even then only obliquely. The various suggestions all have some merit: that this passage explains how David developed a power-base in Calebite territory prior to his coronation in Hebron, that this passage "points out" the Folly of Saul by symbolically identifying him with Nabal, that the passage is to contrast the wife that Saul gave David (i.e. Michal) with the wife that God gave David (e.g. Abigail), and/or to identify the low-water mark of David's life (his fortunes improve starting in chapter 26).

    All of these have merit, of course, but I still find it odd that the scene is reported in such vivid detail. Truly Abigail is painted in such glowing terms throughout the passage. One commentator (Word commentary) comments on the details of verse 42 (Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, went with David's messengers and became his wife. ): "The narrator never lets us forget Abigail's virtues or wealth."

    This exaltation of Abigail's character is obviously also deliberately done at the expense of her husband--Nabal. Not only does SHE identify his name with Folly, but in the process a perfect Wisdom vs. Folly contrast is set up, as in Proverbs 1-9. This "contrast" is identified by some commentators as being a device for contrasting the 'wisdom' of David's obedience to God with Saul's 'folly'. There would, of course, be numerous vehicles to do such in that case, and that a woman is used for the purpose I find beautiful and instructive.

    From a literary standpoint, it is also important to note the her sage-speech in vv.23-31 is one of the longer quotes in the period (esp. when one excludes YHWH and the three kings--Saul, David, Solomon).

  2. The Rape of Tamar (2 Sam 13)

    In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. 2 Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. 3 Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David's brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. 4 He asked Amnon, "Why do you, the king's son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won't you tell me?" Amnon said to him, "I'm in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister." 5 "Go to bed and pretend to be ill," Jonadab said. "When your father comes to see you, say to him, `I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.'" 6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, "I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand." 7 David sent word to Tamar at the palace: "Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him." 8 So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. 9 Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat. "Send everyone out of here," Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, "Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand." And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. 11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, "Come to bed with me, my sister." 12 "Don't, my brother!" she said to him. "Don't force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don't do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you." 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her. 15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, "Get up and get out!" 16 "No!" she said to him. "Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me." But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, "Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her." 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.
    The Rape of Tamar is significant historically in that it explains why Amnon, David's firstborn, did not become king--he was killed by Absalom over the violation of his sister. But this being the case does not require the level of detail we have in the text. The elaborate set-up, and vivid detail of Tamar's dialogue would not be required for this purpose, but rather are indications that something else is going on.

    Tamar's purity is a more vivid example of Uriah's integrity, and her arguments with Amnon--not even answered by him in the text at all(!)--reflects the wisdom and high ethics that we see from most of the biblical women. She appeals to several sources of authority/power, but to no avail against the mindless impulses that he is helplessly captive to.

    • "Don't, my brother!" she said to him. "Don't force me. " (She makes it quite clear this is NOT "consensual"!)
    • "Such a thing should not be done in Israel! " (She appeals to the "community consequences" theological issue--individual sins sometimes had HUGE impact on the nation (cf. Achan's trespass in Josh 7))
    • "Don't do this wicked thing. " (She points out that it is MORAL evil of the highest sort.)
    • "What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? " (She points to the long-term social implications for her status, and the irreversibility of the act.)
    • "And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel." (She points to the long-term implications for HIS status--using the 'FOOL' word (another NABAL!)
    • "Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you." (This is a double-pronged approach: (1) mention of the king MIGHT cause him to re-think this deal and (2) it advises him to compromise without giving up on his goal.)

    Notice the wide-range of this argumentation repertoire: theology, ethics, community-ethos, guilt over her long-term loss of respect, embarrassment of being labeled a "fool" in Israel, royal reprisal, compromise. In rational situations, these arguments would (and did) carry the day. But the king's son will chose self-serving violence over the wisdom and righteousness of this woman. And the narrator makes this quite clear to us--in the details of her purity (and consequently, of the depths of her disgrace), the intensity of her feelings (the Hebrew structure is filled with staccato, short-burst appeals--logic screaming to be heard), and the sage-like wisdom of her arguments.

    It is also tragic to note that the violation of the 'lamb, which was loved as a father loves his daughter' (of 2 Sam 12) was fulfilled literally in the violation of David's daughter Tamar. One can scarcely miss the connection between the innocence/beauty of Tamar, and the beloved daughter-lamb of God's word through Nathan. His evil recoiled upon himself (Psalm 7.16: The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.).

  3. The loyalty of Rizpah (2 Sam 21.8ff)

    But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah's daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul's daughter Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed and exposed them on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning. 10 Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds of the air touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11 When David was told what Aiah's daughter Rizpah, Saul's concubine, had done, 12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had taken them secretly from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) 13 David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up.
    This passage highlights the loyalty of Rizpah to her deceased family members. They had not been given a decent burial, and she kept vigil over their bodies until rain was granted to the land (God had withheld rain until justice had been done for the Gibeonites.). But this act of loyalty prompted David to do 'the right thing' as well. He followed the example of this woman in honoring the dead. This woman protected these bodies from wild animals. She is an example of commitment to David (in the text) and to us (through the text.)

  4. The words of Bathsheba (1 Kgs 1:11ff)

    Then Nathan asked Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, "Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggith, has become king without our lord David's knowing it? 12 Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in to King David and say to him, `My lord the king, did you not swear to me your servant: "Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne"? Why then has Adonijah become king?' 14 While you are still there talking to the king, I will come in and confirm what you have said." 15 So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him. 16 Bathsheba bowed low and knelt before the king. "What is it you want?" the king asked. 17 She said to him, "My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the LORD your God: `Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.' 18 But now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, do not know about it. 19 He has sacrificed great numbers of cattle, fattened calves, and sheep, and has invited all the king's sons, Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army, but he has not invited Solomon your servant. 20 My lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to learn from you who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise, as soon as my lord the king is laid to rest with his fathers, I and my son Solomon will be treated as criminals."
    This passage is important historically because it explains how Solomon became king (instead of an older sibling), but from our point of view it highlights the savvy of Bathsheba. In the set-up, she is alerted to the problem by Nathan and coached on how to approach the king, but when she gets into the appeal to the king, she adds elements of her own. She mentions the celebratory sacrifices (of which David is so incredibly fond of), the use of apparently royal resources for this (!), the actual ring-leaders of this 'initiative', the implicit danger of the non-invite of Bathsheba and Solomon, the importance of his PERSONAL pronouncement before the nation, and the inevitable criminalization of Solomon/Bathsheba that will follow.

    This argumentation--going far beyond Nathan's simple advice--is a very sage-like approach, approximating the 'court-sage' styles of Ahithophel and Hushai (2 Sam 15-17). It is no wonder that she is according queen-mother status by her also-wise son (I Kings 2.19).

  5. The words of the Sage-women

    The Wise Women of 2 Sam 14 and 20 are interesting in that their words are carefully recorded and woven into the plots. In chapter 14, we have the elaborate discourse by the Wise Woman of Tekoa (vv 4-20). This is a VERY long quote, punctuated occasionally by brief statements of David. It is a model of persuasion, theology, confrontation, --and effectiveness!

    There MAY be an implied contrast here also in Joab (who cannot secure the return of Absalom) versus the Woman (who can). He must use a sage-woman to accomplish what he cannot with HIS form of "power".

    It is also interesting to note that Joab is the main character linked to THREE wise-women: he has the main interaction with the Wise woman of Abel (2 Sam 20), he uses and recalls the story of the Patriot of Thebez (2 Sam 11), and he uses the wise woman of Abel to secure the return of Absalom to the royal city (2 Sam 14). Joab--the leading military commander of the day--apparently had quite a respect for the abilities of women in leadership/responsibility roles! And, given that he was a very violent man--I Kings 2.5-- (and perhaps therefore representative of many males in leadership roles), this may reflect a higher male respect for women in that period than is often believed. This is important to take note of--the leading military commander of the day PROBABLY reflected a 'majority view' of women, and Joab's view was one of obvious respect.

    In 2 Sam 20, we have the story of the Wise Woman of Abel--with Joab as the main participant. Again, the very detailed words of the sage are record, even the proverb-quote passage. There is no particular reason for this level of detail to be in the text--it would be suffice to record that the CITY of Abel handed Sheba over. But the narrator of 1 and 2 Sam--in keeping with his very high portrayals of female nobility, intelligence, savvy (cf. Abigail, Bathsheba, Rizpah, the two Sages, Tamar, even Michal generally)--is careful to keep reminding us of their intricate connection with the biblical history.

  6. The Victory Song of David and Saul (I Sam 18.6f)

    When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. 7 As they danced, they sang: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands."
    The Victory Song of David and Saul is first mentioned in I Sam 18.6, but is mentioned two other times by the Philistines! This song, written by women and sung by women, echoed all over the land of Palestine. It was mentioned by the writer in detail (as the other songs of women in the OT), and repeated in those Philistine-contexts verbatim. This song obviously impressed the writer with its historical importance. Just as the tale of the daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned THRICE in the OT, so too is this celebration song of the women. [We have seen earlier that the song was more than just a song--it was almost the 'newspaper' AND the 'annual' of the nation at that time.] Saul's concern over it indicates the importance it played to history, and by explicit mention thrice, to the literary work of the author of 1st and 2nd Samuel.


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Summary: The inclusion of number passages with inordinate amount of quote-detail from women, leads one to believe that their words were important and taken seriously, and their characters were used to contrast with key male figures of the day.

  1. Abigal is shown to be vastly superior to her husband Nabal.
  2. Abigal is shown to be ethically superior to David.
  3. Tamar is shown to be vastly superior to Amnon, the king's son--in many areas.
  4. Rizah (a concubine of Saul) is shown to be ethically more sensitive and compassionate than David.
  5. Bathsheba is shown to be an "equal or better" court-sage than most.
  6. The wise woman of Tekoa is shown to be needed by/more effective than, Joab.
  7. The wise woman of Abel is shown to be "better" than the other elders of her town (including the males).
  8. The wise woman of Abel is shown to be equal to Joab (and more powerful than Sheba).

In historical materials dominated by the stories about the kingship, these snapshots of women's excellencies are VERY pronounced. It almost looks like the Father is bragging on His daughters again...;>)


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