Like water spilled on the ground

The prose of the Bible is not always flowery or aesthetically impressive. In many cases there is simply a bare relation of the facts, even when they are quite ugly. This takes place in the story of Amnon and Tamar, when one of David’s sons rapes his step-sister (2 Sam 13). Amnon is eventually murdered by Tamar’s brother, Absalom, who then escapes to another place. Joab, one of David’s subordinates, plays a trick on David to convince him to invite Absalom back to Jerusalem: he sends a “wise woman” (2 Sam 14:2) to tell a story similar to that of Absalom’s, in order to trap David by his words and to convince him to call Absalom back from exile.

In the course of her speech trying to convince David to recall Absalom to Jerusalem, she says the following:

We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence (2 Sam 14:14).

No one knew the lesson that “we must all die” better than David. His entire life, from the time Samuel anointed him king over Israel to the present moment in the biblical narrative, had been characterized by seemingly endless violence and bloodshed. David had himself been responsible for the death of very many a person; his experience in the world was uniformly violent and death-ridden.

The image this woman gives is quite beautiful and expresses the Old Testament vision of the frailty of life in a poignant manner: a human being is like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. Once the process of life has begun, death becomes an inevitable termination point. Of course, part of the poignancy of the image is that, while death is an inevitability, life is sweet, precious, valuable. Consequently, even in the aftermath of intense heartbreak, David is called to choose life, holding the enemy of death at bay for a bit longer.

What could the woman mean when she says that God will not take away life, but will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence? I am not sure, but it is suggestive.

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About Steven

I study theology and philosophy without ceasing. I have a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University (2013), and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016). I am currently an adjunct professor of philosophy at Grand Canyon University and a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary.
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