Two questions about Saul and David


#1

In my Bible readings over the last few days, I’ve come across some curious passages in 1 & 2 Samuel. Hopefully someone can clear these up for me.

First of all, in 1 Samuel 15, Samuel (on God;s behalf) rejects Saul as king of Israel, due to his disobedience in wiping out the Amalekites. Then we see this:

24 And Saul said to Samuel: I have sinned because I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words, fearing the people, and obeying their voice. 25 But now bear, I beseech thee, my sin, and return with me, that I may adore the Lord. 26 And Samuel said to Saul: I will not return with thee, because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.

Contrast that with David’s crimes re: Uriah and Bathsheba. David didn’t even ask for forgiveness; he just said:

2 Samuel 12:13 And David said to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die.

So Saul explicitly asks for forgiveness and is rejected; David doesn’t even ask, and Nathan lifts the curse (though there is still a consequence). Why one and not the other?

Second question: In 2 Samuel 24, David calls for a census because God is angry with him, and this census offends God to the point where David has to choose between death, famine, or pestilence. Why was the census such a bad thing?


#2

the note from the USCCB website says this

“The narrative supposes that since the people belonged to the Lord rather than to the king, only the Lord should know their exact number. Further, since such an exact numbering of the people would make it possible for the king to exercise centralized power, imposing taxation, conscription, and expropriation upon Israel, the story shares the view of monarchy found in 1 Sm 8:4–18. See also Nm 3:44–51, where census taking requires an apotropaic offering.”


#3

Saul made excuses; David did not.

One thing that we can discern from this is from another passage from 1 Samuel that doesn’t fit directly into either narrative, but falls right before God reveals his selection of the new king: “Man sees the outside, but God sees the heart.”

David was a man after God’s own heart, and this is not something that can be said with any accuracy without God inspiring the sacred author to do so. One can reasonably infer that the difference between David and Saul was interior. They were both sinners, but Saul had a prideful heart, and David a humble one.

As for the census, the general opinion is that it was an act of pride (the irony is not lost on me) as a census would be taken for gauge one’s fighting strength and potential tax income. Israelite kingship was supposed to be servant leadership, where the king was to take care of God’s people, who in fact, belonged to God, and not to the king. This was the king overstepping his bounds. God had allowed David to shed blood, but it was in defense of his people, to secure their land and their borders. But it was not his idea, which is why God forbade David from building the Temple. His son Solomon, whose reign would be one of peace, was to perform that task. By taking that census, David was claiming the right to something that belonged to God alone.

It’s also possible they didn’t comply with the half-shekel ransom required during census-taking, probably required as a reminder that you are being counted as God’s people, not as a fighting force (cf. Exodus 30:12-13).

And as before, we see David humbling himself such that the pestilence was in fact aborted when David pleaded with God to spare the people. As before, he made no excuses as Saul did.


#4

Okay, those make sense. So Saul was like a politician doing the ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ semi-apology, and David was more sincere. And the census thing makes a lot of sense; the king serves the people, not the other way around. Thank you both.


#5

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