The Politics of the Death of the Nation’s Beloved

My latest post over at Political Theology Today has just been published. This week, I am reflecting on 2 Samuel 1, and David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

David and Solomon are the archetypal kings, not on account of military might or prowess, but because they are the great lovers of Israel. David’s story is one of power gained through the winning of people’s love. Saul loved him (1 Samuel 16:21); Jonathan loved him (18:1-4); the women of Israel loved him (18:6-7); Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him (18:28); all of Israel and Judah loved him (18:16). David—whose name means ‘beloved’—is loved by God and expresses a deep love in return. As Augustine once observed, “Cantare amantis est” (Sermon 336): it is the lover who sings and David is the sweet singer of Israel, the one in whom Israel’s devotion to YHWH bursts forth into the joy of song.

The friendship between David and Jonathan reflects David’s gaining of power through love. The story of their love begins with the young David being taken from his father’s house and brought into the house of Saul, much as a bride would be (1 Samuel 18:2), and as Jonathan initiates a covenant with him. David’s attractive appearance—ruddy, and bright-eyed—is not the arresting masculinity of Saul’s great stature and physique, but a softer, more feminine one. However, after stripping himself of the garments that displayed his royal masculine status and giving them to David, Jonathan, who formerly distinguished himself as a man on the battlefield, stays at home, is paralleled with Michal (1 Samuel 18:28; 19:1), is cast as a ‘mama’s boy’ (1 Samuel 20:30), and becomes more dependent upon David in emotional and material ways. Meanwhile, the text masculinizes David, who goes out and fights in the most virile fashion, obtaining two hundred foreskins from the Philistines. Yaron Peleg observes that the literary portrayal of David and Jonathan’s relationship in gendered imagery serves the purpose of highlighting the political reversal whereby David is established as husband and father for the nation in Jonathan’s place.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Guest Post, OT, OT Theology, Politics, Song of Solomon, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

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