Lesson 7 – Difficult Passages

This teaching page is about proper interpretation of difficult passages of the Old Testament.  The first passage that I will consider is 2 Samuel 15:7.

2 Samuel 15:7

King James Version (KJV)

And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron.

2 Samuel 15:7

English Standard Version (ESV)

And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron.

There are two parts to the difficulty in interpreting this passage.  The first has to do with the amount of years; whether four or forty.  The KJV and NKJV have forty as the amount of years and newer versions of the bible such as the ESV and NIV have four as the amount of years.  The number forty comes from the Hebrew text and the number four comes from a Syriac text.  Because the scriptures were committed to the Jews and not the Syrians (see Romans 3:2), the number forty is the correct amount of years.

The difficulty in the interpretation of this passage is the number forty as associated with Absalom.  Absalom could not have been forty years old at this point and neither could he have continued this practice of stealing the hearts of the men of Israel for forty years at the gate.  Absalom was the third born son of David when he ruled in Hebron.  David began to rule in Hebron when he was thirty years old.  He ruled for forty years total and died at seventy years old.  The oldest Absalom could have even been when David died was 37.  Absalom died at the hands of Joab several years before David.

The answer to the question of what the phrase, “after forty years” means can be found by looking at the context of the chapter.  The chapter is about how Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel (see verse 6).  The answers to a few questions will lead us to what this phrase means.  The first question to consider is who did Absalom steal these hearts from?  The answer is he stole them from his father, David.  The second question to consider is when did David win the hearts of the men of Israel?  The answer is he won their hearts when he defeated the giant of Gath, Goliath.

1 Samuel 18:5-7

King James Version (KJV)

And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick.

And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.

Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel forty years after David had won them by his great act of faith and courage in slaying the giant.  David’s great sin of adultery and murder laid the foundation for Absalom’s rebellion.  David was 18 when he slew the giant.  He was 58 when Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.  Absalom was approximately 25 when he rebelled and died.


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