Resting King

[This is an expanded version of a paper read to the Post-Structuralist Research on the Hebrew Biblesection of the Society of Biblical Literature during the joined annual national convention of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature at San Francisco, Nov. 22-24, 1997]

A resting king David: 2 Samuel 7 and [dis]placements

John Havea, + n1

David’s story has a way of shifting out from under us. The story refuses to be tamed, secured, or neatly ordered. (Gunn 1989:137)

The deuteronomistic history2 has been sent to many different addresses,3 postmarked from several [dis]placements,4 resulting in the rupture and dispersion of the story5 in text and interpretations.6 Missending (Derrida) and misrecognition (Lacan), in delivery and reception, are real and present dangers of the deuteronomistic story because of readers’ desires to rewrite, tame, repress, … to deuteronomize. Though we often claim that the deuteronomistic history is sealed, addressed, and posted, we risk losing the narrative by delivering it to deuteronomistic addresses.7

In this paper I re-read a central moment in the deuteronomistic history, 2 Sam 7 (cf. McCarthy 1965, Eslinger 1994), which Brueggemann perceives to be the “theological center of the entire Samuel corpus” (Brueggemann 1990:253). I seek not to identify authorial intentions, nor do I appeal to narratorial omniscience. Rather, I read for voices re-pressed by other readers.8 I read for what is not given a place, for the repressed and misplaced, for the real (Lacan), the symptom (Marx), the referent (Jameson), the underside (Bonhoeffer, Gutiérrez), and I read with the sublime observation that “consciousness is not the master of his house” (Zizek).

Simply put, this is a political reading (cf. Jameson 1981). I do not expect to tame this story, but to deutero-nomize its readings. I favor inter- (Fewell 1992) and counter-textuality (Pardes 1993), regarding 2 Sam 7 not as an island on its own but as text in conversation with other texts. Moreover, I read as an islander for whom land- and text-space are crucial and placement signifies survival while the threats of displacement are always at hand.9 I read from the place where ocean meets (is)land, where surf and turf come face to face, from/at the beach, where waves shape and reshape, place and displace, both island-space and selfhood.10 I read from/at a place of arrival. And departure. It is a turning point, from where the waters are send out to the next island and the islander back to her hut. I read from the place where lines in the sand get washed away, a place of shifting surfaces: On the surf, stability is gained by moving (somewhere) and likewise on the turf, stability is gained by riding the waves named by quantum mechanics. I face 2 Sam 7 at that place, at the boundary, the place of dis\placement and reformation, écriture and rature.

To avoid misreception, I draw a line (in the sand): this is a deconstructive reading not of God but of the text and interpretations of 2 Sam 7. I read for the waves of/over 2 Sam 7, arguing that this story is about the desire of a particular character, David, a king, and its denial by another, Yhwh, another king, the story of a lack (desire for rest) and its repression (denial of desire). I will address the desires of three subjects: Yhwh, other critics, and myself (cf. Jobling 1994).

I propose that Yhwh was threatened by something he thought he heard, that is, threatened by his interpretation of words he heard, and he acted upon his fear by denying David’s desire for rest. An interpretation overshadows a text, and so begins an exchange, a meeting, that led in the end to the displacement of David from his own house. In this story characters grab for power by displacing what stand in the way (cf. Penchansky 1992).

1. What does Yhwh want?

To identify Yhwh’s desires is to wade into the deep seas of theology, into its dogmatic waves and complex systematic undercurrents. For the sake of this paper, I will first identify two of the traps lurking behind my inquiry, then state why it is necessary, nonetheless, to proceed. That is, why I should not ask for Yhwh’s desires but I must.

The first trap rests on the assumption that “desire” signifies being-ness,11 in a way that to have desires indicate a lesser-being obsessed with materiality, so if I am to entertain that Yhwh has desires then I risk reducing the ultimate non-being (cf. Marion 1991)12 to a mere being. This risk requires a metaphysics of presence. My question is thus reductionistic, it risks trapping God in the circle of beings, which is in this case an ontological and theological sin. I anticipate that some theologians, and many deconstructionists likewise, will resist my question: Theologians will resist out of respect for the transcendent God, and deconstructionists will resist out of preference for non-presence.13 Two opposing camps (unconsciously?) ride the same wave differently!

Second, to represent Yhwh as a character with desires implies that he lacks something which he now wants. This connotation of my inquiry can be taken as an assault on Yhwh’s sovereign nature. Critics who maintain that Yhwh lacks nothing, because he owns and rules everything, may answer my question with a simple equation: If Yhwh has desires then he can’t be God, but since Yhwh is a sovereign God he therefore can’t have desires. My question is not relevant. It may be curious, but it is the wrong kind of question.

If I was smart then, I would not proceed with my inquiry. But I must. Not just because I am not smart (see, nonetheless, Prov 26:4-5!), but because this is also a question of faith. I can’t speak of, nor believe in, a God without imagining a presence, whether with images or words, out there or near here, materialistic or otherwise. I must ask my question because, especially as a surfer, I can’t bypass some form of metaphysics, and because a language that does not assume some ontological presence is an empty language.14 So I should not, but I must, ask, What does Yhwh, this literary character, want?15 The question has two edges: What does Yhwh want? and What does Yhwh not want? We bring both questions, together, to Yhwh’s speech in 2 Sam 7, the loudest voice in the chapter.16

Samuel said, Does Yhwh delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices more than in obedience to Yhwh’s command? Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice, compliance than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, defiance, like the iniquity of teraphim. Because you rejected Yhwh’s command, he has rejected you as king. (1 Sam 15:22-23)

In the first part of his speech (2 Sam 7:5-7 || 1 Chr 17:4-6) Yhwh jumps into a conversation in which he was not involved.17 Almost like an intruder, breaking in with his words. He interrupts an exchange (2 Sam 7:2-3) that ended with Nathan saying “All that is in your heart, go do because Yhwh is with you.” To what extent was Yhwh with David? If Yhwh was with David, we assume, they would have spoken with each other face-to-face, suggesting that Nathan misspoke. And misreceived. Did Yhwh respond to/through Nathan because Nathan was the problem, because his words obliged Yhwh to a mere mortal? Was Yhwh’s long speech a rebuttal of Nathan and not David? This weak current runs underneath Yhwh’s speech, but not too weak to be felt.

Determination and anxiety can be detected in Yhwh’s voice, and we should not assume that he stopped speaking until he said everything he wanted to say. There is urgencyYhwh spoke that same nightand determinationhe spoke nonstop and at length. Who was Yhwh’s problem? David? Nathan? Himself?

With urgency and determination, Yhwh commands, “Go and say to my bd</U> David [. . .]" (2 Sam 7:5). The atmosphere has changed. A resting king is addressed as a servant. Or is he a slave? Is Yhwh praising his servant David, or debasing him as his slave, his worker? Is this an event of placement, or displacement? The polyvalent <U>bd has room for “servant” and “slave” both, placement and displacement, as well as the kind of “slave” that Paul proudly claimed. To a resting king a question is posed, “You, will you build me a house to dwell in?” The question is direct and the voice, I imagine, is firm. It is, after all, the voice of Yhwh!

The Chronicler presents the same words not as a question but as a re-solution: “You, you will not build me a house to dwell in” (1 Chr 17:4). The difference between the two representations suggests a tone of sarcasm in the question of 2 Sam 7:5. Yhwh does not deny that he wants a house for himself. Rather, he wants David not to build his house.

Yhwh adds that he has dwelt only in a tent and tabernacle since he brought Israel out of Egypt, then he asks, “Did I ever say a word to any of the chiefs whom I commanded to lead my people Israel saying, Why have you not built for me a house of cedar?” (2 Sam 7:7). We digress on this rhetorical question (also in 1 Chr 17:6).

The difference between a rhetorical question and a sarcastic remark is not always clear. That Yhwh never asked for a house of cedar does not mean that he does not now, in time and space, want one. We cannot determine from 1 Sam 5, when the ark sojourned among the Philistines, how Yhwh feels about placing the ark in more permanent places. His reaction in Philistia was out of resistance against a foreign setting, in geographical and religious terms. Instead of disclosing how he feels about the idea of being placed in a more permanent house, which he later accepts (2 Sam 7:13), Yhwh here only points out how things have been: (1) He led the Israelites out of Egypt, (2) moving about in a tent and tabernacle wherever the Israelites went, and (3) he is the one who appointed leaders over his people Israel.

Put simply, this is Yhwh’s show! David for his part is a leader chosen by Yhwh, so is Nathan, both of whom are Yhwh’s subjects. So is Israel. Read from this story-angle, Yhwh’s recollection of the past is not in order to inform Nathan but to confirm Yhwh’s authority over Israel, David, and Nathan. This is a tour de force to subordinate David and Nathan. Yhwh, however, undermines his own authority by stating that he followed Israel in a tent, he is a follower and not a followed, and that he shared his role as leader with his appointed leaders. Since he led Israel out of Egypt, up until now, Yhwh’s control over Israel has been compromised. In that sense, then and now, Yhwh destabilizes his own claim for authority. The undercurrent of his desires pushes back to the deep.

What if Yhwh had addressed David directly? I imagine David responding, “You’re fine boss. Hakuna matata! Look, your ark is in its own tent just like the old days. I must be doing something right!” But David is not addressed and for the time being not given a chance to respond. Can it be that David is not the problem, but Nathan’s binding remark Yhwh is with you?

As she kept on praying before Yhwh, Eli watched her mouth. Hannah was now praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Eli said to her, How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Sober up! (1 Sam 1:12-14)

Yhwh continues (2 Sam 7:8-11a || 1 Chr 17:7-10a) by aligning the life of one particular leader with the past of a nation. Two events meet: Israel’s past and David’s beginning: (a) Yhwh freed David from the pasture to be a ruler, (b) and accompanied him wherever he has gone, protecting him from his enemies. In both these moments, David’s story matches Israel’s history (1 & 2 in first part of speech). Then the tone shifts to the future (on a preterite): © Yhwh will make David “a great name like the name of the great ones who are on the earth.” Then follows a shift of focus, still futuristic, with Israel displacing David from Yhwh’s concern: (d) Yhwh will set a house for his people, he “will plant them so that they may sleep in their own place, disturbed no longer, sons of violence will afflict them no longer as in the beginning” since Yhwh appointed chieftains for Israel. “I will give you [sing] rest from all your enemies” (2 Sam 7:8-11).

The shifting of focus back and forth between Israel and David suggests an attempt to confuse and displace. What Yhwh did for David ([a] and [b]) he also did for Israel ([1] and [2] of the first part of speech). The story of David becomes the story of Israel.19 In the end (d), Israel and David are merged: the firm planting of Israel will give David rest. Then and now, Yhwh discloses, Israel and her king rely on Yhwh’s doing.

The futuristic shift of perspective in the story ([c] and [d]), as a sign of postponement, of différance, indicates a lack in the lives of both Israel and David. In David’s case, his name is not yet among the “name of the great ones of the earth.” David is not yet secured, so this is not the right time and place for him to rest. As for Israel, she is not firmly planted, she has not been given divine security. The [con]fusion of Israel with David in this part of the speech refutes the narrator’s earlier declaration that Yhwh had given rest to David from all his enemies around him (2 Sam 7:1). David’s security is still in the future, delayed, and so he is not free to do whatever is in his heart. He may be rested from his enemies around him, but he has not been given rest from Yhwh. David’s security is in the hands of Yhwh which, ironically, confirms Nathan’s claim that Yhwh was with David!

Thus far, one element remains consistent in Yhwh’s speech: though the speech deals with David and Israel, the real Subject is always Yhwh, who declares that rest and security are lacking from Israel and David. Yhwh contradicts the narrator who earlier informs us that Israel too, like David, was in her own place, without any disturbances from her enemies (see below). Like David, Israel is rest-less. Yhwh too is not settled. He dwells in a tent and follows Israel and David, his m</U> and <U>bd, he wanders along with them (as was the lot of Cain, in Gen 4).

Oh no, my lord! I am a very unhappy woman. I have drunk no wine or other strong drink. I have been pouring out my heart to Yhwh. Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; I have only been speaking all this time out of my great anguish and distress. (1 Sam 1:15-16)

In the final part of his speech (2 Sam 7:11b-16 || 1 Chr 17:10b-14) Yhwh declares that he will build a “house” for David, implying that it will be a different kind of “house” from the one in which he now dwells. This offer is unsettling, it displaces and distanciates, in space and time, because what Yhwh considers to be “house” is not yet built. In Yhwh’s eyes David now dwells in a house that is not a house, in a liminal house that is both stable and uns(ui)table.

The “house” Yhwh offers will be built when David’s days are fulfilled and he lies down with his fathers. Yhwh will then raise up his seed after him and he will “establish his kingship” (2 Sam 7:12). David’s “seed” will be David’s “house.”19 This simple reading is unsettling: In the first place, the house Yhwh proposes will be built after David died. How then can it be a house for David? Displacement is involved here because the kingship Yhwh promises to establish will not be David’s kingship, but the kingship of his seed. Whose house will it be? House of David or house of God? How does the house of the son become the house of the father?20

Yhwh’s concern is no longer directed toward David. He is replaced by his son who will build a house for Yhwh’s name, and whose royal throne Yhwh will establish for ever. Yhwh confirms, “I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me; when he does wrong, I will chastise him with the scepter of men and the affliction of mortals; I will not withdraw my chsd from him as I withdrew from Saul whom I withdrew from before you” (2 Sam 7:13-15).

David was Yhwh’s bd</U>-servant/slave, but his seed will be Yhwh's <U>bn</U>-son. David's son will take over David's place in relation to Yhwh, and Yhwh will take over David's place as the father of his son. Son of David or son of God?<SUP>21</SUP> Displacement occurs on another level: David's son will do what David is not allowed to do, build a house for Yhwh's name, thus becoming Yhwh's worker also.<SUP>22</SUP> David is neither son nor father, and now he will surely be no builder. What is a servant (cf. 2 Sam 7:5) if he is not allowed to serve his master? </P> <P>That the house will be built <U>for Yhwh's name</U> is teasing. The slippery <U>l</U>-preposition is used, and there is room to imagine that <U>byt lshmy</U> foreshadows the Psalter's <U>mzmwr ldwd</U>. The <U>l</U>-preposition points in many directions, indicating that this house may shelter and/or honor Yhwh's name (cf. Eslinger 1994:42, 49 for other alternatives). The <U>l</U>-preposition seeks to house (stabilize) Yhwh's name. A <U>gwy</U> (nation) was brought up out of Egypt to make a god, but now a <U>byt</U> (house) will be built to <U>place</U> a name. The placement of Yhwh's name, though, is in the narrative future, implying that at the present narrative moment this name is unsettled, roaming free, that is, like David's, it is not a name yet. </P> <P>Yhwh wants to remain free and so we must be careful of critics who read for a covenant in 2 Sam 7,<SUP>23</SUP> and we should not assume that "wandering" always signifies a flaw. </P> <P>Yhwh declares that he will never withdraw his <U>chsd</U> from his (Yhwh's or David's?) son as he did with Saul. This promise, though, does not guarantee that Yhwh will not withdraw <U>this son</U> from before some <U>other son</U>. Yhwh's reference to Saul is ironic because David now shares what Saul experienced earlierbeing withdrawn. Saul was removed from before David, now David is discursively removed from before his son. </P> <P>God's speech closes with the concerns of the opening exchange of the story: security and rest (see below). Yhwh's words are paradoxical. First, Yhwh declares that David's house and kingship are secure: "Your house and your kingship are confirmed for ever <U>before you</U> (me)." This offer is problematic since, as proposed above, David is displaced from his house. Is David's house then confirmed to eternal displacement? The sense of the promise depends on the length of Yhwh's "for ever." These temporal (and spatial?) markers are problematic because <U>before you</U> allows that David's house and kingship will end as soon as David "lies down with his fathers." That is, his house is "confirmed" until he dies. Consequently, the kingship to be established will not be David's and <I>house of David <U>or</U> house of God</I> (cf. Eslinger 1994) is not the primary question of this <I>surf and turf</I> reading. Rather, we are concerned with what Yhwh's <I>for ever</I> may signify. </P> </FONT><P><HR></P> <I><BLOCKQUOTE>You [Eli] have honored your sons more than me, feeding on the portions of every offering of my people Israel. Surelydeclares Yhwh, the God of IsraelI intended for you and your father's house to remain in my service for ever. <U>But now</U> [my emphasis, JH]declares Yhwhfar be it from me. For I honor those who honor me, but those who spurn me shall be dishonored. A time is coming when I will break your power and that of your father's house, and there shall be no elder in your house. (1 Sam 2:29b-31) </BLOCKQUOTE> </I><P><HR></P> <FONT FACE="Verdana,Arial"><P>Yhwh's desire to stabilize himself, ironically by affirming that he is not limited to a place or persons, effects the destabilization of another person (David), whose throne is confirmed in displacement. Moreover, Yhwh's preoccupation with "house" indicates his own desire (lack) for security. In the end Yhwh rejects the narrator's opening words. For Yhwh, David has no house, he has not been granted security, and he will not be at rest. We assume that Yhwh is rebuffing David, but I cannot deny Nathan a place in the problem! This reading characterizes Yhwh as a surfer who wants to control his wave, slipping off his surfboard here and there, then and now. </P> </FONT><P><HR></P> <B><I><FONT FACE="Arial, Helv"><P>2. What do other critics want?<SUP>24</SUP> </P> </B></I></FONT><FONT FACE="Verdana,Arial"><P>Most critics favor Yhwh's speech as the defining element of the story, and they use it to interpret both the foregoing and following remarks (2 Sam 7:1-3). They assume that David always already wanted to build a house for Yhwh, and for them David's agenda is clear: "[. . .] David's proposal is an argument for stability made by a king who has just come to power in the context of political division and instability in Israel. David's need to tighten his grip on power is the exigency that provokes the chain of rhetorical moves in Yahweh's and David's speeches in 2 Samuel 7" (Eslinger 1994:16; cf. Brueggemann 1990:254). The conflict between David and Yhwh develops in three stages: David wants to house Yhwh (2 Sam 7:1-3), Yhwh resists (2 Sam 7:4-16), David then <I>grabs</I> this window of opportunity to confirm the throne for his descendants (2 Sam 7:18-29). </P> <P>Eslinger's reading echoes the voice of Yhwh, the foundation upon which he builds his reading. The <U>center</U>-speech defines the enveloping speeches,<SUP>25</SUP> and he represents Yhwh as one who wants to correct a problem: Yhwh puts "a full stop to any silliness by David, of all people, building a temple for God" (Eslinger 1994:68). A resolution is reached, which is really a compromise: (i) A temple for the "name" but not for the "dwelling" of God will be built,<SUP>26</SUP> and (ii) it will be built by David's son. Yhwh rewrites the short exchange between David and Nathan, and by taking Yhwh's side Eslinger contributes to this process. Text and interpretation join in a process of re-pression.<SUP>27</SUP> </P> <P>By building his reading upon Yhwh's speech Eslinger destabilizes his own reconstruction. The foundation for his reading (2 Sam 7:5-16), a text cushioned from the "bottom" (<I>qua</I> 2 Sam 7:1-3)<SUP>28</SUP> by the narrator's voice (2 Sam 7:4), a deferred foundation, makes his reading structurally unstable. The weight of his foundation (12 verses) threatens to crush the voices before it.<SUP>29</SUP> Eslinger thereby reconstructs an unstable structure, and consequently represents an unstable reading, by neglecting the function of "margins" in the "creation of a center." A structural reading on the other hand must, I argue, account for the relation between the center and its margins. </P> <P>As the signified "slides" under the pressure of the signifier in Lacan's reconstruction of Saussurian semiotics, Signified-over-signifier (cf. The Bible and Culture Collective 1995:197f.), so is the relationship between Yhwh's speech and the previous dialogue. The words of 2 Sam 7:1-3 are signified-like, they are pressured but not crushed, always already breaking down into other signifiers. In the third section of this paper I will account for the voices that slide under/away from Yhwh's speech (desire). </P> <P>A second important contribution by Eslinger is theological in nature, concerning the Davidic covenant which critics read as unconditional and eternal (cf. McCarthy 1972:45-52, Tsevat 1980: 101-17, Kruse 1985, McKinney 1985:211-4, Roehrs 1988). Not only did Yhwh put a "full stop to any silliness" by David, but he also assured that David's son will be punished for his sins (2 Sam 7:14) implying a conditional covenant (Eslinger 1994:57f.). History has the final say: "As it was with the house of Saul, so it is with the house of David. [. . .] the emptiness of what is granted to David echoes an assisting hollow boum to magnify the whimper with which the house of David expires" (Eslinger 1994:102). The evidences, both literary and historical,<SUP>30</SUP> suggest that the covenant of 2 Sam 7 was not unconditional nor eternal. </P> <P>Eslinger accordingly avoids the problem of representing a God who does not deliver his promises. The conditionality of the covenant explains the outcome of history: the Davidic kingship ended because of the sins of the Davidides (so Noth 1981 [1943]), which is often taken as explanation for the exile also (cf. Bailey 1991, Friedman 1981b). What is significant about Eslinger's reading is the way he makes sense of the multiplicity within the narrative logic of the deuteronomistic history with no need for "double redactors" to explain the different voices (cf. Cross 1973: 274-89, Nelson 1981, Friedman 1981a). But what does his reading repress as a consequence? Is not a text "[. . .] as coherent as any reader perceives it to be" (Murray 1995:213)? </P> <P>My concern here is not with whether Eslinger forced his reading (cf. Hauser 1995). Rather, I am concerned with whether the <I>fence</I> he places around Yhwh works to exclude and marginalize others. This is a theological concern as well as an ethical challenge, daring us to recognize for whom we read and be responsible for the consequences of our interpretations, the good and the bad both. It is by now pass&eacute; to state that the interpretive task is a <I>violent</I> (Derrida) and <I>militant</I> (Guti&eacute;rrez) one. But it is necessary nonetheless to still remind ourselves that to read in defence of the divine character (e.g., Fretheim 1985), even if unconsciously, is also violent and militant.<SUP>31</SUP> </P> <P>Eslinger may have bypassed the theological question of the connection between promise and fulfillment with regard to the Davidic covenant, but he needs to account for the ethical challenge of his conditional covenant reading. Who is repressed as consequence of his reformulation of the Davidic covenant as a conditional one? To whose "silliness" does Eslinger put a "full stop"? </P> </FONT><P><HR></P> <B><I><FONT FACE="Arial, Helv"><P>3. What do I want?<SUP>32</SUP> </P> </B></I></FONT><FONT FACE="Verdana,Arial"><P>As an islander I do not enjoy the luxury of jumping into the center, or of beginning at the deep end. I can only walk into the ocean of the text at its shallow end, the point where the surface-current is strongest because waves from the deep break onto shore to <I>meet</I> the declining waters causing a stronger spin than the currents of the deep seas. Its strength, though, is disguised by the shallowness of the end. </P> <P>The shallow end of 2 Sam 7 carries three voices: the narrator, David, and Nathan (7:1-3, 17-29). I read for these voices, listening to each (as "frame") anew<SUP>33</SUP> one voice at a time.<SUP>34</SUP> I surf the voices, forward then back and across, with patience for the rush of textual ambiguities. I listen to the silences of the text, and resist being intimidated by Yhwh's voice. In this reading, I choose not to favour the divine voice because to give him a privileged hearing is to partake in his program. I prefer to turn back the power of the deep, in order to let the surfer reach the turf. </P> <P>The narrator does not say much at first (2 Sam 7:1-3 || 1 Chr 17:1-2), and David and Nathan are limited to one sentence each. In their first round of speeches, they disclose the same concern: David is enjoying rest and relaxation. Then the narrator speaks for a second time (2 Sam 7:4), as if to urge us to quickly move on to Yhwh's speech. Why? What is the narrator concealing? Should we submit to the narrator's desire, or embrace this turbulent surf? I choose to delay, <I>diff&eacute;rance,</I> because I want to identify "strangers" in the "silences"<SUP>35</SUP> of 2 Sam 7:1-3 (cf. Kristeva 1991). I do not want us to neglect these early voices, the foundation upon which the narrator tells his story.<SUP>36</SUP> </P> <P>The narrator declares that "it was so, the king was settled in his house and Yhwh had rested him from all his enemies around him" (2 Sam 7:1). The Chronicler gives a shorter version (1 Chr 17:1), but he too is certain that the king was settled. Both accounts open with <U>wyhy cy-yshb</U>, <U>it was so</U>, for real, <I>to die for,</I> David was settled in his house.<SUP>37</SUP> But the <U>state of rest</U> that anchors the narrator's account is missing from the Chronicler's version, a silence that suggests an attempt to erase, to unsettle, to repress David's rest. We have two versions of the same event, indicating unsettlement <I>in</I> <I>the book</I> (cf. McKenzie 1985)<I>,</I> and I opt not to erase their differences. I read the silence of the Chronicler as an attempt to displace, to wash away the writing in the sand which spells r-e-s-t! </P> <P>The narrator claims that David is rested from enemies around him. But we learn from the previous episode that he still faces problems at home (2 Sam 6, cf. Bowman 1991), he has enemies <I>in the house!</I> Whose house is it anyway? House of David? Saul? Michal? Israel? House of God? Many characters may claim this house, but what is more important for us at this point is what <I>house</I> signifies: rest and security. To settle in a house is to be placed, the utmost desire of displaced people (cf. Bailey 1991). But whether one is <U>safe</U> in the house, in one's placement, is not guaranteed. </P> </FONT><P><HR></P> <I><BLOCKQUOTE>Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar.They said, Come let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world. (Gen 11:1-4) </BLOCKQUOTE> </I><P><HR></P> <FONT FACE="Verdana,Arial"><P>When David speaks for the first time he echoes the narrator: "Look! I am dwelling (<U>yshb</U>) in a house of cedar and/but/so/then/now/<U>w</U>-the ark of Yhwh abides (<U>yshb</U>) within a tent." 2 Sam 6 discloses David's self-interested side,<SUP>38</SUP> even in his religious dealings, and we are led to expect something similar in 2 Sam 7. David must be going after something material and/or power! On the other hand, one can imagine in 2 Sam 7 a tired king who upon returning home is rebuked by his wife so he simply wants some peace and quiet, rest and relaxation. Both readings are allowed by 2 Sam 7:2, depending on how one reads the <I>waw</I> that joins the two clauses of the verse.<SUP>39</SUP> </P> <P>To arrive at a self-interested David, one reads the <I>waw</I> as a disjunctive: "Look! I am dwelling in a house of cedar <U>but</U> the ark of Yhwh abides within a tent." David elevates his place against Yhwh's, alluding that the royal house of cedar is more stable than Yhwh's tent. David is a sarcastic teaser who sticks out his tongue at Yhwh, teasing him that the tent dweller was not as secured as the king. In this first reading David marks his territory and reveals that there is no place for Yhwh, or his prophet, in his house. Their place on the other hand was in the tent. There is no indication that David wants to build a house for Yhwh, and even if there was such a desire, David could be saying to Nathan, "If you think that a house of cedar should be built for Yhwh, like my house, take care of it yourself." In this reading, David takes over Michal's sarcastic role. </P> <P>The disinterested alternative is to read the <I>waw</I> as a consecutive: "Look! I am dwelling in a house of cedar <U>and</U> the ark of Yhwh abides within a tent." Things are settled, there is peace from the enemies, so David reports to Nathan, "Mission accomplished! I am in my own place, the ark is in its proper place, people are safe. Hakuna Matata!" Here also, David does not propose to build a house for Yhwh. He simply wants to rest. </P> <P>Both are old readings, old enough to be disclosed by the <I>waw,</I> the crossing-c-point, the inner-margin, and old enough to be overlooked by readers. In light of both these possible readings Yhwh's rejoinder indicates uneasiness and jealousy, offering no resolutions: There will be no rest, there is work at hand, to build a house for Yhwh. The deep voice of Yhwh therewith crashes onto the shallow end of the text. </P> </FONT><P><HR></P> <I><BLOCKQUOTE>Yhwh came down to look at the city and tower that man had built, and Yhwh said, "If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another's speech." Thus Yhwh scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. (Gen 11:5-8) </BLOCKQUOTE> </I><P><HR></P> <FONT FACE="Verdana,Arial"><P>Then Nathan speaks, "All that is in your heart, go, do because <U>Yhwh is with you</U>." Nathan did not deny that David was secured. Rather, with a tone that almost sounds carefree, he gave David permission to do whatever is in his heart. The expression <U>Yhwh is with you</U> is an elusive one. On the one hand, it may be read as an affirmation that his mission is accomplished so David may rest with Yhwh's blessing. Yhwh is with you! ,! On the other hand, it may be read as the rejection of David's teasing implication that Yhwh has no place in the king's house. Nathan thereby merges the house of David with the house of God by stating, "Yhwh is with you." </P> <P>If we accept the disjunctive reading of 2 Sam 7:2 then we hear David distinguishing his house of cedar from the tent of the ark of Yhwh. Two separate dwelling places, set apart from each other. A gap therefore separates David from Yhwh. But with Nathan's words the distance is bridged, Yhwh is now <U>with David</U>. A question arises, Is it "good" to be with Yhwh?<SUP>40</SUP> In light of what Yhwh wants from those <I>with</I> him (see 1), we can at least say that to be with Yhwh is no picnic &lt;see "take cross and follow me"&gt;. To be with Yhwh takes courage and involves many risks, and one must surf Yhwh's wave cautiously. David risked loosing his house and his son. Almost. David comes to face Yhwh, he faces the face of the other,<SUP>41</SUP> and offers a response. </P> </FONT><P><HR></P> <I><BLOCKQUOTE>He had two wives, one named Hannah and the other Peninnah; Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless. [. . .] He used to give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters, but to Hannah he would give one portion onlythough Hannah was his favoritefor Yhwh had closed her womb. Moreover, her rival, to make her miserable, would taunt her that Yhwh had closed her womb. This happened year after year: Every time she went up to the House of Yhwh, the other would taunt her, so that she wept and would not eat. (1 Sam 1:2-7) </BLOCKQUOTE> </I><P><HR></P> <FONT FACE="Verdana,Arial"><P>After hearing God's words, David came to "<U>yshb</U> before Yhwh" and offered his response (2 Sam 7:17-29 || 1 Chr 17:15-27). Why not approach him in the first instance if his initial words (in 2 Sam 7:2) were intended for Yhwh? After all, as we now learn, Yhwh was accessible to the king. By coming to "<U>yshb</U> before Yhwh" David shows that he is not daunted by Yhwh's presence nor by his speech, and that <I>he has a place</I> which he now takes. The one just displaced responds by coming to <U>yshb</U> before the displacer.<SUP>42</SUP> The displaced <I>takes a place</I> and asks, "What am I Lord Yhwh and what is my house that you have brought me thus far?" (2 Sam 7:18, cf. Ps 8:5-7). </P> <P>David knows that rhetorical questions work well as means for displacing others. He has learned from Yhwh that words <I>work.</I> David confirms his insignificance and asks that all which Yhwh has spoken concerning his "house for the future" be "the torah of man," adding that Yhwh is the greatest of all beings, both human and divine, and in this great thing he has done he confirms his greatness. David thus reasons that Yhwh has done "this great thing, <U>to show your servant</U>" (2 Sam 7:19-21; my emphasis, JH). David too knows how to use seductive rhetoric! </P> <P>To hear such a confession from someone whom Yhwh had just displaced raises suspicions. On the one hand, one may imagine that David is trying to take advantage of the situation to confirm the future of his descendant (so Eslinger). On the other hand, one hears a displaced David pointing out to Yhwh that his <I>tour de force</I> has been for the selfish reason of proving his greatness. David refuses to give in and run away. He takes a place, and presents his words before/against Yhwh. </P> <P>Irony unfolds in David's response. First, he points out that Yhwh has a unique people. Israel is "one <U>gwy</U> [nation] on earth that God went and redeemed for himself as his <U>m [people], winning for himself a name [my emphasis, JH] and doing great and marvelous things for them. […] You have established for you your people Israel! A people for you for ever, and you Yhwh, you’ve been a God for them” (2 Sam 7:23-24).

Whereas Yhwh earlier indicated that David’s name was not among the name of the great ones of earth, David here returns that Yhwh has won himself a name. Yhwh wanted to be god, so he redeemed for himself an m</U>. Before he went to Egypt to redeem this group, they were just another <U>gwy</U>. After Egypt they became his <U>m and as a consequence Yhwh became god. David’s praise is unsettling because Yhwh had just offered to do something similar: Yhwh will take David’s seed to be his own son, and become his father in the place of David. A man who was just being told that another person will be the father to his son43 points out how this displacing father-to-be went about becoming a god. In this reading, David does not piously accept the divine degree. He is not really selfless, on behalf of the future of his descendants. Rather, I read here a displaced person reacting to his displacement.

Eslinger reads differently, arguing for a resolution: A compromise is reached through David’s request (1) that Yhwh fulfills his promise because his words must be true, (2) that Yhwh’s name be glorified because he is “God of Israel” and (3) that Yhwh bless “the house of your servant to be before you forever, for you Lord Yhwh have spoken. May your servant’s house be blessed from your blessing forever” (2 Sam 7:29). Eslinger appeals to David’s repeated requests for Yhwh to fulfill his words (2 Sam 7:25, 26b, 28b) as David’s attempt to take advantage of his situation to secure the kingship for his descendants (plan B). In the end, David is a pious character who beckons a pious reading: David prays to the God of Israel for a blessing.

But it is also possible to read David’s closing remarks as an attempt to have the final word in the matter. The narrator gives him that privilege because Yhwh did not respond and Nathan was oust when David “yshb before Yhwh.” In this alternative reading (1) the repeated requests for Yhwh to keep his words signify an unreliable character who needs to be urged how to behave, (2) thus calling Yhwh (cf. 2 Sam 7:28) to accountability, (3) and to be a blessing because gods should bless rather than displace (2 Sam 7:29 cf. Gen 12:1-4a). With these words David shows that the servant is aware of the master’s plan, since Yhwh revealed it to him (2 Sam 7:27). Whereas the content of David’s heart is concealed in 2 Sam 7:3, here Yhwh’s plans, that is, what was in Yhwh’s heart, is known to his servant David.

In his speech Yhwh proposed to overtake David’s house, making David’s son his own. The house of David fuses with the house of God, and so the demands for Yhwh to fulfill his words to the house of David are demands on behalf of the house of God also. Yhwh rejected David’s house by affirming it as his own: dis\placement! In his response David reminds us that the house of God is the house of man.44

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose. […] In her wretchedness, she prayed to Yhwh, weeping all the while. And she made this vow: O Yhwh Sebaoth, if you will look upon the suffering of your maidservant, and if you will grant your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to Yhwh for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head. (1 Sam 1:9-11)

I have read 2 Sam 7 as a story about security and safety, signified by a house that is lacked, claimed, denied, and reclaimed. David was settled until Yhwh spoke in 2 Sam 7:5f., seeking to displace him for saying “Look! I am dwelling in a house of cedar w-the ark of Yhwh abides within a tent” and in resistance against Nathan’s binding remark (Yhwh is with you). The story represents two kinds of [dis]placements: the stabilized (David in his house of cedar) and the destabilized (ark of Yhwh in a tent). The story tells how the destabilized Yhwh seeks to displace David. The latter will not easily give in, he takes a place before the destabilizer and calls him to account for his words. This displaced person wants Yhwh’s words to work in an alter-native way.

This displacing reading has arrived at a “slimy yet satisfying” location, on/under the waves of 2 Sam 7. It is satisfying because I have read for the other face of the text, accounting for the silences, and on behalf of the displaced character of the story. But it is slimy because this involved reading against the text’s characterization of Yhwh and because I am not too fond of the historical and literary figure of David. Now, t\here, I long for a rest [my under-line, JH]!45


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How/what we read is influenced by our desires, what we lack but prefer and what we fear and repress. Displacement. In this paper I read for the lack and repressed, in and by the story of 2 Sam 7. It is an alter-native reading that does not accept Yhwh’s words as the defining element in this story. Rather, I read on behalf of David, a character with means and goods and with whom I do not identify, so I read for my other, focusing on his opening words, “See now, I am dwelling in a house of cedar, and/so/now/then/but/w-the ark of Yhwh dwells in a tent” (7:2). I read 2 Sam 7 from the p[a]lace of David, a place of rest and safety, from which the promise of another house sounds like a threat to usurp, urged by desires to re-press and controldisplacement.


Other readers, in différant ways, helped author this reading (cf. Derrida 1988:29-34 and Lacan 1970), including David M. Gunn, its first patient critic, Danna N. Fewell, David Jobling, the critics with whom I converse, the biblical narrator, and ultimately the text of 2 Sam 7. They all reserve the right, also, to resist this reading.

2With Noth’s 1981 [1943] study the imagined textual boundary that separates the Pentateuch from the Former Prophets was destabilized, turning Deuteronomy into a link, an interruption, and not just a barrier between the two narratives. Noth therewith shifts the boundaries of both the text and its interpretation (cf. Polzin 1980).

3Cf. Derrida’s critique of Lacan, on missending the message (Derrida 1987:413ff.). The problem is not just in missending, but the tendency among critics to “return to sender” qua give interpretive control back to the author/ redactor/narrator (see e.g., Kruse 1985) instead of receiving the text for themselves (cf. Brown 1984).

4I am thinking in terms of the placements of both author/narrators (see McKenzie 1992) and reader/critics (see The Bible and Culture Collective, 1995:20-69).

5Take for example the different themes critics use to organize the deuteronomistic history: the key concept is “apostasy” for Noth (1981:15f.), “grace” for von Rad (in Wolff 1975:85f.), “return” (shûb) for Wolff (1985, cf. McKenzie 1992:162), and “good” (tôb, in covenant sense) for Brueggemann (1968:389). Moreover the text has been characterized differently: as array of sources (Wellhausen 1871), creation of one “author” (Noth 1981), arrangement by many redactors (Cross 1973), saga and novella (Gressmann in Gunn 1991:13,15; cf. Caspari, Luther, and Schulz also in Gunn 1991), propaganda (Rost 1982 [1926]), exchange between “voices” (Polzin 1980), and so forth.

6We must recognize these two moments, of text and of interpretations, in order that we may account for the missendings and misrecognitions at each moment, asking whether justice is served, denied, skewed, and/or delayed.

7It is an illusion to assume that a deconstructive reading is successful only when the message is lost because “deuteronomizing” is complete when the “first text” is suppressed. The first text, on the other hand, remains under erasure (Derrida).

8Readers of the deuteronomistic history are experts in reading for “other voices.” Most of the time, though, they silence the voices of the other and they end up deuteronomizing each other. Deuteronomism thus overflows from the text to its reception.

9I discussed this island experience in “The future stands between here and there: towards an is-land(ic) hermeneutics” (The Pacific Journal of Theology Ser. II No. 13 [1995]:61-68).

10The representation of “beach” in this paper echoes the notion of “liminal space” in the works by Victor Turner (on anthropology), Mary Douglas (on Leviticus), and Nanette Stahl (on O.T. law).

11This echoes a popular critique of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, in which the chance that Jesus had desires is often received as an assault on his assumed divinity.

12This should not be confused with the Levinassian formula otherwise-than-being, which refers to the irreducible other, the other (Saying) who resists reduction to the Same (Said), whether divine or mortal, whose “face” obliges us by its presence.

13Such deconstructionists, I argue, go against Derridean deconstruction. Consider, for instance, Derrida’s notion of différance, which stands for “differ” (delay, in time) and “defer” (postponement, in space). Deconstructionists who prefer non-being and non-presence overemphasize “defer” at the expense of “differ,” both of which are inseparable in Derrida’s différance <ref, cf. Norris Uncritical Theories>. The same critique may be said against theologians who overemphasize the transcendent over the economic God. Both natures are necessary for speaking of God.

14Language is a metaphysical trap which gives the illusion that we can speak in the abstract when, in practice, our imagination must probe the doors of metaphysics before language can work. Even the argument for non-presence is metaphysical!

15This complex question crosses several limits. What I propose to be Yhwh’s desires are not free of my desires as reader, nor of the narrator’s/author’s. And there is always the possibility that a characterization, by the narrator and/or by readers, is for the sake of the story rather than as an expression of personality (see Rashkow 1993, McKinney 1985:214-9). Here we face the politics of biblical representation.

16That the “character” of a literary character, in this case Yhwh, may be defined by discourse analysis is the thesis for which Craig (1993) argues. When we consider a character’s desires we speculate and reconstruct what may be on her mind in a particular situation, and we transfer our desires unto her. We may not successfully reconstruct authorial desires, or those of the narrator, but it is safe to assume that words signify the desires of the speaker. Intentions are present, but difficult to determine so it comes down to the question of (mis)reception (see also Savran 1988:77-108).

17In two earlier events Yhwh made similar interrupting appearances: In the garden after Eve and Adam ate from the fruits of the tree of knowledge and in the fields east of the garden after Cain killed Abel (Gen 3-4). In both cases Yhwh passed judgement. We expect the same in 2 Sam 7 also.

18Pseudo-Philo reads the story of Hannah similarly as a story of Israel, mistaking the waves for the ocean (see Biblical Antiquities chs. 50-51).

19Polzin (1993b) suggests that “house” here refers to Israel, thus supporting, at this moment of interpretation, the displacement of the “house of David.”

20This question is somewhat trinitarian , recalling Jesus’s concern for the “kingdom of God” in his sermons and parables. It is, however, easier to perceive the “kingdom of the father” as the “kingdom of the son” than to perceive the “house of the son (seed)” as the “house of the father.” The latter transference goes against the currents. To ask these empirical questions is to be swept away by such currents.

21This question has Christological significance, beyond the scope of this paper (cf. Schaberg 1990 [1987]). Note especially how the situation in 2 Sam 7 differs from the instane in the story of Jesus, in which Joseph is instructed to take the “son of God” as his own <text??> giving the implication that the situation is reversed: now the “son of God” becomes the “son of David.”

22The Chronicler gives a different explanation for why David is not allowed to build the house for Yhwh: he was a man of war whose hands were defiled for having shed much blood (1 Chr 22:8, cf. Dirksen 1996).

23But we must not let Yhwh escape his responsibilities to Israel, his people.

24I focus my brief analysis on Eslinger’s (1994) study, which carefully examines previous studies of 2 Sam 7.

25The tendencies to harmonize chiastic structures and to read for a textual center are common among structural studies (see e.g. Polzin 1980, 1989, 1993a and Eslinger 1985, 1989, 1994). I on the other hand prefer to read on/for the margins. I surf! Note in addition that how a structuralist uses “chiasm” differs from the way Derrida and Levinas use it, i.e., as a point of meeting, of crossing, as represented by the Greek letter “c” <ref>.

26This is a trace of the tension between the priestly anthropomorphism (God is present through the cult and its rituals) and the deuteronomic “name theology” (God is present in name) in the Pentateuch (cf. Weinfeld 1992:193f. and Roehrs 1988:16-19). This interchange, this crossing, is a form of displacement: D loosens P’s hold upon God. But what does it mean to say that a “name” dwells in a house? How is that house occupied?

27Eslinger was not unaware of the appeal of Yhwh’s words, e.g., “[…] the Davidic covenant as such, never existed except in the minds of those taken in by Yahweh’s seductive rhetoric [my emphasis, JH] in 2 Samuel 7” (Eslinger 1994:xii). Here and there, Eslinger too is seduced by Yhwh’s rhetoric. Language works!

28I am refering to the dialogue in 2 Sam 7, bearing in mind that the foundation for 2 Sam 7 is much broader.

29Cf. the iron and clay feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image in Daniel 2.

30An important contribution by Eslinger that I must pass over in this paper, due to the lack of space, is the conversation on methodology with Anthony Campbell, Mark O’Brien, and Bernard Levinson. May it suffice to note here that Eslinger’s rhetorical and close reading accounts for both literary and historical data.

31Reading is violent at several levels, to several subjects: to the text, to neglected characters, to the author and/or narrator, to Yhwh, to other readers, and so forth. The question here is not how to avoid violent reading, but how to read responsibly (cf. McKinney 1985: 214-9).

32This is a misleading question because, so far, then and now, t\here, this paper is always already about what I want!

33It is of course difficult to listen to a literary voice anew, since we have heard and echoed these voices from time to time. It is equally ironic that my reading begins by analyzing Yhwh’s speech (1), which is the voice I prefer not to privilege. It is necessary for my deconstructive reading to first outline the voice that I undermine.

34“Frame-by-frame” (voice) reading is the stuff of structural analysis (see 2 above). The difference is that I am not reading for the center of the text, but for its margins.

35I also tried to read the “silences” in another paper, “To love Cain more than God, in other words, Nod-y Gen 4:1-16.”

36I have chosen 2 Sam. 7:1-3 as the foundation for my reading without suggesting that one should begin reading only from there. Another reader may choose to begin with the Ark Narrative (cf. Campbell 1975 and Jones 1990), for instance, or with Hannah’s story and even with Genesis (as hinted by the intertextual interruptions in this paper).

37Compare with the “sometime afterward” in 2 Sam 2:1 & 8:1, both of which lack the certainty signified by “it was so.”

38Since his repeated questions to the Israelites in 1 Sam 17 concerning the rewards for defeating Goliath, up to his entry with the Ark to his city in 2 Sam 6, David shows his self-interested side. David has always been after something, driving to control whatever that something may be, including Yhwh’s heart.

39The F-voice in 1 Sam 18:7 is similarly ambiguous: “Saul has slain his thousands; w-David his tens of thousands.” To read the waw as a disjunctive is to actualize the scoffing force of the song. But as conjunctive, it indicates that “Saul and David have slain the foe in great numbers together” (Brenner & van Dijk-Hemmes 1993:34).

40How one answers this question depends on one’s perception/experience of God and of the world. My reading is influenced by my experiences of [dis]placement.

41What is often neglected, in my opinion, is the “other face” of the other. The face that the other hides from the Same, sometimes unconsciously, because the other also resists being Said (Levinas). This “other face” is what I try to identify in this reading as the “silences” of the story. My desire is to disclose the complexity of the face, at the risk of trapping the “other face” in the Said. So I should not speak of the other face of the other, but I must.

42Which implies, on an alternative reading, that this displaced character has reached a place of “sanctuary” before God (cf. Gelston 1972). This goes to show that a “sanctuary” is a place of encounter, of crossing.

43An issue with which most fathers are anxious!

44The allusion to Augustine’s distinction between “two cities” is intentional. What keeps the two cities/houses apart exists in the realm of the unconscious (the Lacanian real). To attempt to keep them apart is to fall victim to the trap of language (the Lacanian symbolic order).

45This reading, at this point, has not gone far enough because I still need to account for others at the underside of history (cf. Brown 1984). I rest at the crossing, in the sand!



© Copyright 1997, Jione Havea
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