Seeming Discrepancies

Have you ever played the kids’ game, “Gossip”? You know, the one where you get everyone into a line or circle and whisper something in the ear of the first person, who whispers it to the second person, and so on… Remember how the farther the message traveled from the original person, the more confused it became? That’s the kind of scenario you might imagine when you examine the differences in the biblical record of the following event:

  • 2 Samuel 8:13 tells us David killed 18,000 Syrians in the Valley of Salt.
  • 1 Chronicles 18:12 says Abishai killed 18,000 Edomites in that same location.
  • The prologue to Psalm 60 says Joab killed 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

A skeptic would say, “Well, they can’t all be right. This just proves the Bible is full of errors.” Another person might point to the “Gossip” illustration and say that the Psalm was probably written at the time, so it’s right; while 2 Samuel was written second-hand, and 1 Chronicles was many years and tellings removed from the actual event. That may be the case, but that would still give the impression that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God we take it to be, since one account would be right, while the others are in error.

But what if all three are right? “That’s impossible,” you may say. But wait! Listen to my take on this.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for a general to take credit for a major victory, even though he only watched it from the sidelines? And what about the way we tend to blame or credit a national leader for a war that takes place during his administration? I think that is what we are seeing in these passages. Most likely, Abishai was the one who actually led the company into battle that engaged the enemy in the Valley of Salt. The discrepancy in the identity of the army may have been due to an alliance between Syria and Edom. The 12,000 dead may have been an earlier estimate, later revised to 18,000, once the bodies were disposed of. Because Joab was the general in charge of Israel’s army, David credited him with this victory. 2 Samuel is a record of King David’s administration, so naturally it would attribute the win to him.

Whatever the case may be, the fact that this victory allowed Israel to subject the Edomites to David’s authority fulfilled the ancient prophecy regarding Jacob and Esau, “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). One wonders if the writers of these books, hundreds of years after Moses recorded God’s message to Rebekah, realized they were chronicling more than mere history, but a demonstration of God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge!

So remember this the next time someone points out an apparent contradiction in Scripture. Never assume that the Bible contains errata, but check into the history behind it. More often than not, you’ll find there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for any differences you see between one record or reference and another. God’s word is true, it is accurate and it is trustworthy—no matter what others may say!