When Kings Go Out – When Messengers Sally Forth

In 2 Samuel 11:1, the setup for David’s sin with Bathsheba and subsequent cover-up has an intriguing ambiguity in the manuscripts we have, as pointed out by Alter and Polzin. Many have the word for “kings,” which seems to make the most sense. It is kings that go out, or sally forth, to battle. This is a time when David should have been out in the field with his army, and instead he is lounging at home, looking at rooftops. Yet the received text has the word for “messengers” instead, which is never used in conjunction with the verb “to go out” or “to go forth.”

So which word is it? Kings or messengers? One suspects that this “scribal contradiction” is actually a literary device used by the divine Author Himself. The ambiguity between the two words seems deliberate.

Throughout the next two chapters, it literally is the time when messengers go out. David sends messengers, Joab sends messengers, and Uriah becomes the messenger of his own death warrant. The whole story takes place through the mediation of messengers.

And then, for the climax of the episode, God sends His own messenger, who declares that the sword will not swerve from David’s house.

It is a time for messengers to go out, indeed.


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