Hebrew Style In 2 Samuel 6 -- By: Terence Kleven

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 35:3 (Sep 1992)
Article: Hebrew Style In 2 Samuel 6
Author: Terence Kleven


Hebrew Style In 2 Samuel 6

Terence Kleven*

2 Samuel 6 presents the story of the movement of the ark from Kirjath Jearim to Jerusalem. In the first part of the account the ark begins its journey but is interrupted because Uzzah, one of the men who drive the cart upon which the ark is carried, steadies the ark with his hand and is struck dead by God. David is afraid to continue to transport the ark, and it is placed in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. In the second part David succeeds in bringing the ark to Jerusalem. The reason for his success is delineated in the subtle and laconic yet definite development of the story. David recognizes that the ark needs to be carried in the manner stipulated by Pentateuchal law—that is, upon the shoulders of priests—rather than on a cart as had been done by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 6. A comparison of the two attempts reveals that after the Uzzah incident there are indications that the ark was carried by humans rather than on a cart, that the sacrificial law is considered essential when Israelites are in the presence of the ark, and that the priestly function is now given its rightful place. David himself, in an extraordinary demonstration of God’s favor toward him, is allowed to fulfill the role of a priest as he dons a priestly ephod and leads the ark to Jerusalem. The final episode of the chapter, Michal’s challenge of indecency against David, continues the cryptic but forceful narrative depiction. Michal’s complaints are against God’s selection of David, and God curses her as a result. In summary the stylistic depiction of the action throughout 2 Samuel 6 is terse, especially in comparison to the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 13, 15, 16, and this has caused much misunderstanding. The purpose of the story can only be appreciated as the reader acknowledges the full force of the stylistic minutiae of the narrative.

This summary, of course, is a matter of dispute. S. Mowinckel argued that there is an ancient Near Eastern ritual background to this event in the consecration of the temple of the new king.1 P. D. Miller and J. J. M. Roberts sought to establish a Mesopotamian background for the story in the capture and return of divine images.2 Miller and Roberts stress the historical rather than mythic nature of the action, though they claim that

* Terence Kleven is assistant professor of Old Testament at Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundla...

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