2 Samuel 12:31

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Puritan Board Junior
In my reading of 2 Samuel this morning I was a bit taken back by 12:31. As my NASB reads...

"He also brought out the people who were in it, and set them under saws, sharp iron instruments, and iron axes, and made them pass through the brickkiln. And thus he did to all the cities of the sons of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem."

My initial thought was-- wow, this seems almost Saddam Husseinish. Was David just having a really bad day or what? Then as I began to research the verse I discovered that most modern translations give a very different meaning to this verse, such as the NIV...

"and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brickmaking. He did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then David and his entire army returned to Jerusalem."

So I'm wondering from you scholars, what should be the right reading of this verse? Was David rendering torturous death or putting them in workcamps?


Tempus faciendi, Domine.
The NASB rendering could be taken as just another way of saying what you see in the ESV or NIV. This question requires more digging.

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
"Set them under" can easily mean "put them to work using." I'm not a Hebrew scholar so I can't speak about the translation, but context-wise I don't see any hint of a reason David would inflict torture on these people or even put them to death. The passage shows how David is extending his kingdom and wringing tribute and useful labor out of neighboring nations, albeit by the efforts of Joab while David himself took it easy in Jerusalem.


Puritanboard Botanist
One thing for sure, it couldn't have had anything to do with forced labor. Doing what? Building schools and hospitals? And can anyone seriously think the cost of transporting bricks back to Israel made that likely? Not a chance. It was talking about execution, and probably of "party officials", clergy, aristocracy etc...

I rather think he publicly executed the countries leadership. The kiln is probably the big furnaces they used to offer their kids to Moloch. See how you like it, Dad. Maybe it was just the priests of Moloch that went into the fire, and the hacking to death of the other leaders.

And remember why David couldn't build the Temple? He was a man of blood. I think there were complicated issues involving historic Semite laws and practices that were bloodthirsty, but expected and served as a deterrent. Not a perfect deterrent, which would have involved more mercy, but a deterrent none the less.


Puritan Board Junior
The venerable Henry is probably influenced by 1 Chr. 20:3, which uses a different verb. There, it does seem that torturous punishment is in view. But that in itself is odd, given the Chronicler's tendencies. One would expect the harsher account to be in 2 Samuel. But as for the language of 2 Sam 12:31, I think the intention is forced labor not torture -- though passing through the brick kiln is admittedly difficult for me. Perhaps, the chronicler is clarifying with the use of SWR, instead of SYM, but a systematic look at his selection and recasting of Sam-Kgs, would make this an odd change. All that to say ... I don't know :D

But as for the Hebrew of 12:31 itself, forced labor is probably meant by sym + b, In my humble opinion.
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