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Allow me to explain (10 of 439)

January 26, 2011

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10. When did Absalom rebel against David? 2 Sam 15:7 vs 2 Sam 5:4

This one had me stumped for almost ten whole minutes.

2 Samuel 15:7//
Now it came to pass after forty years that Absalom said to the king, “Please, let me go to Hebron and pay the vow which I made to the Lord.”

2 Samuel 5:4//
David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.

You see the dilema. David only reigned for forty full years, and yet his son, Absalom is said to have made this request – and kicked off his rebellion – after forty years. We know, however, that Absalom’s rebellion was not the final year of David’s reign.

The beginning of 1 Samuel 15 details how Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” from his father, David. Then, we read, “after forty  years …”

The skeptic assumes that the text is telling us that Absalom sat at the king’s gate and judged the people – thus elevating himself and “stealing hearts” – for forty years. But this doesn’t make any sense. The forty years of king David’s reign are well known, because the number 40 is very symbolic. If this is what verse 17 meant, we must assume that the translators of the ancient scriptures either didn’t remember chapter five by the time they got to chapter 15, or that they somehow didn’t realize that this time frame is completely impossible.

Either of those scenarios is difficult to swallow.

The discrepancy has been noted, and scholars have a couple of suggestions:

1 – It’s a typo.
The word “forty” is very close to “four,” and some commentators believe it was a clerical error that became widely propagated. It happens. Clarke’s Commentary explains it best:

But the Syriac has arba shanin, Four years; the Arabic the same arba shinin, Four years; and Josephus has the same; so also the Sixtine edition of the Vulgate, and several MSS. of the same version. Theodoret also reads four, not forty; and most learned men are of opinion that ארבעים arbaim, Forty, is an error for אברע arba, Four;

I suppose it’s possible, and a lot of translators and scholars believe this is what happened. The NIV, NLT, and ESV all read, “at the end of four years …”

2 – The forty year period in 1 Samuel 15 isn’t referring to how long Absalom sat at the gate.
Personally, I like this one better. It would be easy to say that it’s a copy error, but I find it hard to believe. Ancient translators – I’ve heard – used to count the number of strokes on every page/column after they finished translating to make sure it was correct. Even Clarke’s Commentary admits,

this reading (“four years”) is not supported by any Hebrew MS. yet discovered.

Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary describes this possibility best:

But whence it is to be dated we are not told; … either from his first anointing by Samuel seven years before, or rather (I think) from the people’s desiring a king, and the first change of the government into a monarchy, which might be about ten years before David began to reign; it is fitly dated thence, to show that the same restless spirit was still working, and still they were given to change: … So it fell about the thirtieth year of David’s reign. Absalom’s plot being now ripe for execution,

When we talked about #8, we took a little time-out at the end to remember that the Old Testament is a 4000-year history, and what that means.

The skeptic will say that we’re stretching the language to justify the text, but one could easily argue that the skeptic is doing the same. The truth is, scripture is not clear about when this “forty years” (or four, if you prefer) began. We know when it ended, but we’ve already seen instances that demonstrate “then” does not mean “immediately,” etc.

Short answer: We don’t know exactly.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jacob permalink
    January 26, 2011 10:00 am

    Side question, which translation of the Bible are they using? RSV? Or ASV? Most people who try to disprove the bible use those two translations because they were translated by a highly liberal group of bible scholars.

    • Lex permalink
      January 26, 2011 12:05 pm

      I’m not entirely sure. Most of the time it looks like the KJV or the NKJV.

  2. jacob permalink
    February 1, 2011 11:36 pm

    Hey if I could suggest three books to help the with proving of the Bible. All by the same author too.
    1.Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ
    2. The Reliability of the New Testament:
    3. And the soon to be available. Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament

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