Blow is the continuation of The Bible Acording to George
The third chapter starts with an odd verse, the accurate interpretation of which I have no sense of security in making. Nor, I suspect, should any of the large number of interpreters who have preceded me.The verse in question includes “the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.”
What in the world that means I have no idea. In particular, what “open vision” means or why its absence would work to make the word of the Lord less or more precious in Samuel’s time is not clear to me. I wonder if I would follow it in the original, but certainly not enough to want to learn the original language, as I’ve never had that much interest in the game of telephone.
Anyway, the main thrust of Chapter Three is the story of God’s first communication to Samuel and Samuel’s sharing of it with Eli. Eli had gone blind by the time of Samuel’s talk with God. Samuel apparently slept in the temple with the Ark, and thrice he was awakened by God calling his name. Twice he thought it was Eli, and twice he rushed to Eli’s side, only to be rebuffed. The second time Eli decided God wanted a talk with Samuel, and told the child the proper response was to simply say “I hear you”, or words to that effect. The third time Samuel followed Eli’s instructions and got the talk, which turned out to be all about how God was going to bring Eli and the gang down.
Understandably, Samuel was at first reluctant to talk to Eli about the conversation. Eli, however, insists, and Samuel’s tale is accepted by Eli as God’s judgment and His to make.
The whole incident is viewed by the public, which learns of it through undisclosed means, as a sign that Samuel is a prophet.
Chapters 4 thru 7
In these chapters Israel has some hard times. The Philistines, a tribe that was to pass into non-existence about 800 B.C., were regularly beating up on Israel. In one battle the Israelites lose some four thousand men, a huge number in those days.
In response, the Israelites call the Ark of the Covenant of God up out of Shiloh as reinforcement. That turns out to be a big mistake, for, although at first frightened, the Philistines eventually capture the Ark itself, and rout the Israelites completely, killing some thirty thousand of them, an even larger number.
It was in this rout that the sons of Eli are both killed, and, perhaps worse, when Eli gets the news, he falls, breaks his neck, and dies. So, now I guess I know the essentials of how that all went down.
One last thing relevant to this rout: The news of all these deaths and the fate of the Ark brings on the birth of Ichabod by Philehas’, Eli’s son’s, wife. She dies in birth.
Looked at in a vacuum, one would have to say it was a bad day for Israel.
But give not up all hope for Israel!
Not only does Israel far out-live Philistine in the long run, but the Philistines soon regret having ever laid their filthy little hands on the Ark. One of the first places they take it proves a bad omen. The owner of the house, Dagon, in the town of Betshemesh (where it spends the first few nights after its capture) survives only two days The first evening he’s laid prostrate before the Ark. On the second night, he’s beheaded and de-palmed, as well as prostrated again. (Where is the disgrace, I wonder, in this prostration? And what’s with being de-palmed? Was this just a very bad case of road rash? Maybe it was a preview of road rage?)
In any case, in view of the Ark’s behavior, it appears that Steven Spielberg had more information than we knew when he started the Indiana Jones series. The curse that the Ark carried with it was so great that the belief in it apparently lasted at least until the book of Samuel was written down, which, of course, wasn’t until many generations of telephone had passed.
As nearly as I can tell, possession of the Ark became identified with a very high likelihood of having a plague of hemorrhoids. No, I’m not making this stuff up, and you can easily understand why the Philistines grew tired of the Ark. They apparently kept it only some seven months.
The return of the Ark seems to be a point of some contention amongst interpreters over the years. Thank goodness that I have chosen to start only at the King James version! Most of the hard work has already been done, or given up on. Anyway, it seems even the King’s men pretty much gave up on it.
So, as relayed to me by the King’s men, the Philistines decide to send the Ark back, accompanied by a coffer filled with a valuable bit of artwork that would make Mapplethorpe proud, and some cows that should do well as sacrificial offerings. Unattended, the cart, designed especially for ferrying the Ark back to the Israelites, is taken away by the draft-animals straight to Bethshemesh, a town in Israelite control, if I understand it correctly. The Ark then gets on its high horse and kills a lot of the residents for some offense, possibly looking into it without proper authority, or permission, or something.
There’s something about a rock marker on the road here, but I think I’ll skip it for now, if not permanently, as I have long since lost any penchant I may have once had for rocks with names.
Going straight to Bethshemesh, by the way, is significant, as by doing so, the evils as performed by the Ark are shown to be deliberate and not by accident.
The Bethshemeshis decide to pass the Ark on to the Kirjathjedarimis. No, I’m not making up the names of these towns, either—although the spelling of them is a challenge.
The Ark was happy in Kirjathjedarim, being given due homage there, and it stayed some twenty years.
The book of Samuel’s penchant for naming all the people and places involved in every little story included in the book seems a bit overdone to a reader some five thousand years later. Like the fact the Ark stayed in Abinabab’s house on the hill for the whole twenty years it resided in the little town with the unspellable name in the territory of whom I’m not too sure. Yet it has been included, and passed down all this time.
As Tevya, from Fiddler On The Roof, said, “Tradition!” Who am I to argue?
During this time, “all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord,” which I take to mean they missed having the Ark. So I’m not so sure of my geography. Was Bethshemesh in Israelite control or not?
While the Ark is not available to most Israelites Samuel seems to come to the fore in Israelite thinking. He advocates for the Israelites giving up on other Gods (other than the God of Israel, I mean). The Israelites appear to be doing so, so Samuel calls for a gathering of all Israel at Mizpeh. The Philistines hear of the gathering and prepare to attack them. This scares the Israelites, and Samuel makes an offering to the Lord, to which the Israelites later attribute their subsequent victory; Samuel then marks the advance of the Israelites with a stone, which he calls Ebenezer, and which the Philistines respect from then on. Who’d have thought such a well known name, now associated chiefly with a miserly old man, would have such a history? For that matter, who’d have thought there would have been so much interest in stones as to name them? But that does seem to be the habit of the day.
The defeat of the Philistines was lasting and complete, and all the lands the Philistines had had taken over the years were returned to Israel. Samuel returns to Ramah and builds an altar.
Fast forward to Samuel’s old age–when we pick up the story again, he’s an old man. During the interim he has appointed his sons, Joel and Abinah, to be judges over Israel in the town of Beersheba. But they’re corrupt and take bribes.
The elders gather together and approach Samuel at Ramah to ask him to clean house by appointing a king like all the other nations in the neighborhood. Samuel doesn’t like the idea and tells them, over a period of time in the near future, all the evils that can come with having a king. He also assures them that God is not going to help them when the king turns out to be evil. I hate to be this way, but Samuel’s arguments sound a little self-serving since he behaved very much like a king himself.
But the elders have made their minds up, so Samuel takes their appeal to God. It may sound somewhat overly skeptical, but it occurs to me that consultations between Samuel and God were, presumably, only known to Samuel and God. It seems well to keep in mind, in any case, as Samuel was, presumably, the sole source of what is reported here. God, according to the book of Samuel, says “Do it. If that’s what they want. Just give them a king.” On receiving the message, Samuel tells everyone just to go home. He’ll deal with it in due time.
After some genealogy, which is a common thread in the Bible (genealogy was apparently much more important in those days than it is in today’s America) we learn that Saul (a very tall and attractive man, the son of Kish, etc., etc.) spent a long time once on an errand to find some asses his father had lost. Saul and a servant were on an extended journey looking for the asses and were about to give up the search when the servant suggests they make a last effort by asking Samuel (who happens to be making a public appearance nearby, and whom Saul and his manservant only knew to be a holy guy) for his insight. They go to the town where Samuel is supposed to be making a blessing and are told where to find him.
Samuel comes out of his temporary dwelling just as Saul is passing and recognizes this giant (he stands head and shoulders above everyone else) immediately as the man whom God wants as the first King of Israel. According to the book of Samuel, God had forecast Saul’s appearance before Samuel (but I remind you of the unreliability of such reportage).
Anyway, Saul asks Samuel for directions to find the holy man. Samuel tells him that he, himself, is the holy man and he (Saul) should come with him (Samuel) and have dinner and spend the night, then he (Samuel) will tell him (Saul) what’s in his (Saul’s) heart. All of which seems a bit convoluted, but conversations are usually much easier to follow in real time than in arrears, like this, so deal with it,
Samuel tells Saul that the asses have already been found.
The exchange, though, is somewhat tarnished in my mind by the fact that Samuel tells Saul that he (Samuel) will let him (Saul) go the next day. It’s almost as if Saul has been kidnapped. Is this just a slip, a habit, a translation error–or perhaps something more sinister?
The reason I suggest sinister motives is the manner in which Samuel regards Saul during the rest of their time together. Saul, when he first was suggested as the King of Israel, reacts with, “Me? You don’t mean me. Surely you don’t mean me. Let me tell you a little about myself.” After which he details all about how he comes from the smallest and most insignificant tribe of the Israelites, the Benjamins, and from a small and insignificant family therein. But Samuel won’t take no for an answer; he holds a big dinner at which Saul is the guest of honor, then he has Saul and his servant as overnight guests. That evening Samuel apparently takes Saul up to his roof (which was probably, being some 5000 years ago, little more than the top of a mud hut), and really puts on the pressure.
The next morning Samuel takes Saul out with him early on his way out of town. Sending Saul’s servant ahead, Samuel tells Saul he will show him what God has said.
The first thing Samuel does is he anoints Saul with oil (a ritual indicating God’s blessing as King), then he offers a prophecy of Saul’s near future. (Samuel is later shown to anoint with oil quite readily, and often ahead of public endorsement. In fairness to him, though, I should comment on the prophecy. It is detailed and not in the realm of things he, Samuel, the man, could know in advance. For example, Samuel predicts Saul’s encounters with several people, to the details of how many loaves of bread they give him. Of course, there is no way to be aware of the actual timing of the so-called prophecy. At the time, the specifics could be verified,or disputed, by independent witnesses. But after all these years, there is no hope of resolving the accuracy now. Yet it’s inclusion in the modern, written book, especially in view of the detailed exposition elsewhere in Samuel of trivial matters, seems pretty good as an argument for Samuel’s legitimacy. It may be precisely this reason so much of the story seems to be peppered with trivia: It endows the whole thing with a credibility it would not have otherwise. Perhaps this is a form of countering the natural skepticism that bedevils anything which might arise from a telephone game, If the story is accurately and honestly reported, there can be little dispute with either Samuel’s ability to know the humanly unknowable or of God’s existence. If it is not, then who’s to say?)
Obviously, none of the five thousand year old story can, at this point, be proven false or true. As Jesus was to say years later, only through faith can one enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Nothing told us in the Bible is provable, only faith allows you entry.
(As I mentioned in the introduction, when I was about twelve, I had this level of faith. My parents were Southern Baptists who lived in a town in extreme northern California in which there was no Southern Baptist church. Nor was there any such church within driving distance. They were, nonetheless, very strong believers in their religion, and the family was never far from God. Mother and Daddy were always trying to get the few Southern Baptists in the two neighboring towns to join with our town’s small population of Southern Baptists to form a church. Several times they succeeded, although the churches never did, and I spent much of my childhood attending would-be Baptist churches or, sometimes, other denominations whose teachings were not too anathema to my parents.) At about twelve, I was born again.
What that means, I no longer know. Even whether once born again means always born again is no longer something I can speak to, although I once could. As you probably can tell by my general approach to the topic at hand, I have evolved a great deal in the sixty some years that have transpired since my conversion. I am definitely more skeptical than I was then. Whether it follows that I am less faithful than I was then, is not so clear to me. How does the fact I am doing this translation at all figure in?
So, Samuel spells out Saul’s future, in excruciating detail, for a short period of time, leaving it at a point where Saul is to decide for himself whether God has picked him or not. Well, not exactly “leaving it,” for, in a perplexing twist, Samuel proceeds telling Saul of his future as if Saul has no influence on it. In seven days Saul and Samuel will meet up again and Samuel will tell Saul what to do.
On leaving Samuel this time, Saul seems to see the light. He has a change of heart and begins to see how it must be that God has actually chosen him. When Saul and his servant return home they have an exchange with Saul’s uncle about where they had been and what Samuel had to say. Saul shares the bit about Samuel knowing that the asses have been found, but withholds anything about him becoming King Saul.
At this point the asses seem to have run out of steam, for there is no more talk of them. Instead, we seem to jump to a gathering of all of Israel at Mizpeh, which Samuel has called. Samuel belabors Israel a bit about their opting for a king rather than sticking to old time religion, but, apparently somewhat reluctantly, gives them Saul, (that really big guy over there), to be the one picked by God as their new king.
But the children of Belial (a term made much more interesting by a peek at the wikipedia entry you get when you google it, and which has come to mean “worthless” or “the devil” over the years) don’t buy into it, not seeng the obvious advantages of being the only tribe on the block with a giant for king. They bring him no coronation presents. But all seems well, as he pays no mind. This is one of several acts of Saul which lead me to conclude that his self-image, at least, was mostly that of being a benevolent leader. He routinely seems more forgiving than Samuel, for instance.
Chapter 11 tells the story of the events that lead up to Saul’s being recognized by all of Israel as King. It seems that Nahash, King of the Ammonites, had been besieging Jabesh–gilead, a town with questionable, but close, relationship to Israel, for some time. The people of Jabesh decide to give up, asking Nahash for terms of surrender. Nahash’s terms were that everyone (or perhaps just the men) in Jabesh agree to have their right eye plucked out, with the resulting pile of disembodied eyeballs to serve as a rebuke to Israel. The Jabeshis talk Nahash into a seven day stay while they appeal to the other(?) Israelites to see if anyone will help them. In those days war seems to have been more reasonable, if just as brutal, as it is now. Maybe even more Brutal.
Saul is angered and threatens the tribes of Israel if they don’t support him and Samuel in defeating Nahash. The forces he gathers in Bezek number 300,000 Israelites and 30,000 Judeans.
The next day, before it is particularly hot, this force drives Nahash from the field of battle in a rout noteworthy because of the tactic of dividing Saul’s forces into three parts, and the dispersing of the Ammonites so thoroughly that not two are left together.
After the victory, the troops call on Samuel for the heads of the children of Belial, who had doubted the selection of Saul. Saul says no to this.
Samuel says, “Let’s all go to Gilgal,” a place of disputed or unclear meaning. There Saul officially becomes King of all Israel and much sacrificing and partying takes place.
During this partying, Samuel delivers a speech. He begins by pointing out how virtuous he has been while serving as their spiritual leader. Still annoyed at the elders for demanding the anointment of a King, Samuel then warns the people, again, of putting their faith in a human rather than the Lord Himself. It was, after all, the Lord Himself that had preserved Israel through all of its travails since the Beginning.
It appears to this observer that Samuel’s presentation should be taken with a bit of salt. As the sole spokesman for the Lord, Samuel has a lot to lose if the authority he wields gets diminished by the new-found authority of the king. As for the survival through all the travails, two points: One, why all the travails? Are they not better evidence of a poor relationship between God and the Israelites than a good one? And two, what, other than survival, could be claimed by those who, apparently, had survived? It just doesn’t seem like a very convincing argument to me.
Apparently conceding that point in advance, Samuel proceeds to show the power he, personally, still holds with the Lord by asking God to bring on a thunder and rain storm. The result is the complete destruction of the wheat harvest. I would have advised Samuel against aligning himself with this result, but perhaps he knew what he was doing, as the Israelites recognize his power and agree to continue taking the word of God (as presumably filtered through Samuel) to be supreme over the opinion of a king. Samuel accepts their fealty and assures them he must, by virtue of being their spiritual leader, continue to pray for them in any case.
Frankly, I’m left not too clear on Samuel’s position in all this.
The last verse of 1 Samuel, 12, strikes me as somewhat ominous, however: “But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.” It sounds a bit too much like a veiled threat for my liking.
In a bit I found confusing, the reign of Saul either takes place for one or two years before the next chapter again picks up the narrative. Saul eventually chooses three thousand men to serve as his personal guard, divided between two thousand who stay with Saul in Michmash and Mount Bethel, and one thousand who serve with his son, Jonathan, in Gibeah, a town apparently in the realm of the Benjaminites. The rest of the Israelites are apparently free to come and go as they wish.
Jonathan, for reasons not made very clear, attacks the Philistines at Geba. The broader population of Philistines apparently don’t take kindly to this. They gather a force of thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and as many individuals as there are grains of sand on the world’s beaches (a number we used to call “Kig-lee-wig,” by the way, when I used to teach math to mostly black kids in Del Paso Heights, Sacramento, back in the day). Needless to say, the Israelites feel more than slightly outnumbered and most of them just take to the hills. Saul attempts to hook up with Samuel at Gilgal, using the standard waiting time of seven days he and Samuel had used there before.
Unfortunately for Saul, Samuel does not show. Saul decides to resort to desperate measures, and makes an offering to the Lord without Samuel’s intermediating blessing. When Samuel learns of this he demands an explanation, which Saul attempts to provide. But Samuel says Saul has proven unfaithful and must, therefore, lose his status as king. Samuel then withdraws to Gibeah, leaving Saul with only about six hundred men.
The Philistines come out of Michmash in three companies, one of which goes toward Ophrah, another toward Bethhoron, and the third toward the border between Zeboim and the wilderness.
There follows some discussion of blacksmiths and who is going to sharpen what for whom and why or why not.
The rest of 1 Samuel 13 appears to be gibberish, which may be as much due to lost text over the lifetime of the text as anything. That, at least, is my most forgiving explanation for it. The overall impression to someone in my position, however, is quite depressing. Isn’t there supposed to be some encouragement here? Doesn’t one of the most important texts of our culture deserve better than this? Why do so many people live and die by the foolish attempts to make sense of it all? The failure, in my opinion, of the King James version to even come close to an understandable translation, or to acknowledge when accurate translation is impossible and why, makes the question of why anyone should die for a principle of literal meaning a good one indeed. The one lasting impression I suspect I will leave this venture with is that the best you can do now, thousands of years after the facts, is to skim and guess.
Maybe that is all you’re going to get from me from here on out:: skimming and guessing.
Chapter 14 (On looking at it, though, eliminating stuff is almost as hard as retaining stuff that makes no sense to me long enough to decide whether it deserves comment or not.)
Saul, like so many fathers of more recent times, seems to have had some trouble with his children. One of his sons, Jonathan, whom I have mentioned before, was especially unruly. He had two brothers, Ishui and Melchishua, and two sisters, Merab and Michal. Most of chapter 14 seems to deal with Jonathan’s exploits. The male siblings appear to disappear entirely after this. Jonathan seems to have been a bit of a bully who willingly used his status as the son of a king to get people to fight for him against other tribes.
One thing which seems to become clearer to me the longer I look at Samuel is the extent to which everything was mutually agreed to. To accomplish anything, leaders seemed to have to convince their underlings to go along. In fact, the main lesson I take from this text is just how barely beyond the era of tribalism Samuel and Saul’s world was. The main difference between the European invasion of America and the Bible’s history of Samuel’s time seems to have been the ability to record events which comes with a written language.
Even this may oversimplify, since written language came quite a long time after the events we now read about in the Bible were first passed down by the game of telephone–or at least that is my impression of it all.
It all makes me wonder what the equivalent of the Bible would look like if it were the product of the American Indians. Before they had, mostly, developed their own ability to write things down, the American Indian lived in a world which probably was not dissimilar to that of Samuel and Saul’s. Certainly they relied only on a verbal record as did the Israelites of Samuel’s time.
For example, would the Oglala think they came from the tribe that had been chosen by God to triumph over all other people? Would their current subjugation to the Europeans be viewed by a significant minority of all Americans today as merely a temporary setback? Samuel’s record makes me think the Oglala might have had a story very much like this one if Europeans had only taken a few more generations developing the clock (which was critical to navigation of the Atlantic). That would, probably, have given the American Indians the time to have developed written languages.
According to the First book of Samuel, Samuel receives word from God to the effect that the Amalek’s, who apparently had been hostile during the Israelites flight from Egypt, must be destroyed. The word of the Lord, delivered, of course, through Samuel, is that everything that was ever Amaleki must be destroyed, including sheep, women and children–anything whatever.
Saul executes the word of the Lord except for a couple of things he apparently thinks will be okay, but are not–at least not with Samuel. For one thing, he takes Agag, King of the Amaleks, prisoner instead of killing him outright, for another he keeps the best of the sheep, oxen, etc. as spoils of war, to serve as sacrifices to the Lord. He also let’s the Kenites get away from the massacre. They had, again apparently, been friendly with the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt.
Samuel is greatly displeased with the liberties taken by Saul and tells him he will no longer be allowed to be king. Saul grovels a bit, asking Samuel to stand by him again and he’ll do just as he’s told from here on out. Samuel goes along with it for a little bit, personally cutting Agag into small pieces, sort of like a little stamping fit, and begins looking for a replacement for Saul.
Meanwhile the Lord is apparently quite upset at himself for ever putting much faith in Saul as King in the first place. Although it doesn’t seem to be voiced explicitly, you can almost hear Samuel taunting “I told you so!”
Samuel’s attention is drawn to Jesse’s sons as potential replacements for Saul. Jesse was a well known resident of Bethlehem. Using a subterfuge of offering a sacrifice to the Lord to cover him from Saul’s possible wrath while he checks out the boys, Samuel goes up to Bethlehem to meet them. None of the older brothers is chosen, including the oldest and tallest, Eliah. Apparently the Lord–or was it just Samuel?– was still smarting a bit from his (Samuel’s?) impetuous choice of Saul mostly because of his height. David was, at the time, out in a field tending to sheep, so Samuel doesn’t meet him right away, but he wants to.
It is arranged; The Lord, on seeing David, says “this is the one,” and Samuel anoints him king. For the record, this was news to me: I had no idea that David was anointed King before he had killed Goliath. Besides, what prevented the Lord from seeing David before this? When did He become omniscient:?
In addition, the politics of the era was much more complicated than I had previously understood. For one thing the very fact that Saul and David overlapped–even if David’s status were not public, as yet–seems a little untoward to me. Add to this Samuel’s ambivalent role and I just have no idea what to think.
Anyway, a lot of this early selection of the successor for Saul seems to revolve around the role of Jesse, David’s father, who was apparently a pretty important Bethlehemite at the time. As soon as David is anointed king, “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” which seems to mean Saul became quite depressed. Saul’s advisors apparently then recommended David, who was a gifted harp player, as a musician to lift Saul’s mood. Thus David enters Saul’s inner circle and becomes his armor bearer.
Now, despite earlier assurances that the Philistines had already been put in their place, they gather to challenge the Israelites once again. This time it takes place at Shochoh, a town in Judah, and is centered about the leadership of Goliath, who is reportedly six cubits and a span tall. That would be about 6 times 18 inches plus about four or five inches. In other words, about 113 inches tall, which would be about nine foot four. That’s pretty big. Hence the reputation of giant. More importantly, though, is the fact that he was reputedly quite a warrior, too.
Anyway, Goliath is of a braggadocio bent, and takes to challenging the Israelites to put forth their best soldier to battle him mano-a-mano, with the winner to be the on the overall victor’s side. Sort of a “if you beat me then we will all give up” kind of thing. Of course, the battle is to be to the death, so Goliath would not be around to make good on the surrender of the Philistines, and the killing of David would carry even less enforcing authority, so I’m not too clear on how this was actually supposed to work.
David, for some reason, is out tending sheep during the start of the battle, but his older brothers, Eliab, Abinidab, and Shammah, are with Saul. Jesse sends David to take a care package to them. Who would have guessed David would have had older brothers named Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah? No wonder the Lord chose the younger brother to be Saul’s successor. “Hail Abinadab” just doesn’t have much of a ring to it.
While delivering the care package, David is interrupted by Goliath’s bragging challenge. Unfortunately for Goliath, David can’t turn down a dare and he comes forth to accept the challenge. Saul tries to get David to wear his personal armor, but David finds it too cumbersome and opts for his lowly shepherd’s attire. He puts some river rocks in a pouch and the rest is history.
Seeing Goliath’ s head being cut off with his own sword, which is what David does as soon as he can after knocking Goliath unconscious with a forehead shot from his sling, panics the Philistines and the Israelites rout them easily.
Now, when I was about twelve, I attempted to become proficient with a leather sling. The effect of the sling was very impressive insofar as distance and force but I was almost incapable of hitting the broad side of a barn from thirty feet. Not only was the method of releasing the stone at just the right moment hard, but the irregularity of the rock itself routinely threw the trajectory of its flight into the realm of chance. I might have been somewhat panicked myself if I had been witness to such skill as David displayed.
Anyway, Saul’s main reaction seems to be an increase in interest in the young man’s lineage (he has promised to set the slayer of Goliath’s family free). Abner, the King’s chief of staff, or something, doesn’t know the family history, so Saul asks David directly. David, in a speech delivered over Goliath’s severed head, tells him. Why Saul didn’t already know the family history, in view of David’s service as harp player and depression allayer, I don’t know.
David get’s very close to Jonathan, Saul’s son, and, I believe, heir apparent. Meanwhile, Saul decides it best not to let David return to his household. Whether he has heard about the anointment or not, I don’t know, but Saul grows very concerned about David’s future in the kingdom, and, despite David’s help getting over at least two royal depressions, and as many times when the youth with the sling has to hide from the presence of the King for his own safety–despite, too, the King aggressively trying to get him killed by the Philistines–David survives and eventually rises to be a leader much admired throughout the country.
Saul offers Merab, his daughter, to David, to guarantee his loyalty. David, though, says he’s not worthy of being the king’s son-in-law. But Michal, another daughter, seems to be hot for David, who apparently reciprocates her affection. Saul sees a way to solve many of his problems.
He offers to make David a son-in-law, through Michal, for the paltry dowry of just one hundred Philistine foreskins. I swear, who would have thought this kind of thing would show up in the Bible? I mean, that’s all kind of disgusting. How would David even harvest one hundred Philistine foreskins, let alone deliver the dowry? Who were these guys?
I’m reminded of a kind of game we used to play as children: “Which would you rather do? Swim a river of snot or climb a mountain of scabs?”
David eventually delivers two hundred foreskins, apparently wanting to impress both the future father-in-law and the new wife, and Saul finds himself with a new son-in-law who not only still breathes, but just keeps getting to be a bigger and bigger threat to his own wellbeing. Michal makes David a good wife, apparently, and David thrives, being seen by all Israelites as conducting himself wisely. This as opposed to the alternative of being regarded as a homicidal maniac.
Michal proves to be a bit of a mystery, though. she never bears David a child, although it is hard to imagine that she and David never fornicated. Later we learn that she marries again, after being taken back by Saul, only to be reclaimed by David during one of his periods of being on top. You’d have thought she’d be more of a subject of fiction writers than a later wife like Bathsheba.
David has an eye for the ladies, though, that is clear. He winds up being as famous for bedding women as for killing men. but you will find I am an even larger mystery. I cannot resolve the contradictions that reside in David’s presentation in the Bible. The man is not someone I want my son to idolize. But judge for yourself.
Saul sets about to kill David, in retrospect not such an unreasonable goal. But many otherwise loyal servants of Saul, including his son, Jonathan, and daughter, Michal, whom I don’t know whether she is already married to David or not, conspire with David to keep him alive (It seems like a better story if this occurred before the marriage.). David escapes to Samuel’s protection in Ramah, then moves to Naoith, both towns I know nothing, or, at least little, about. There is something about Saul trying to get access to David while he’s there and being thwarted by some kind of intervention by the Lord in the form of setting Saul’s emissaries into prophesying fits, but I have to admit to not understanding it. Saul’s goal of eliminating David is not shared with Jonathan because Saul suspects Jonathan wouldn’t be open to it. David tries to convince Jonathan of Saul’s evil intent for him. He winds up with an elaborate plan to convince him, communicate it, and break off contact with Jonathan for his own protection, once Saul’ s intentions are clear. The plan is executed and Jonathan and David go their separate ways.
It’s all a bit like an episode from The Game of Thrones, which prompts one to think of movie royalties. But let’s not go there just now. Better to get an agent first.
But maybe I’m being a bit too harsh. After all, these were tough times and the Middle East is, and, as this chapter shows, has long been, a very tough neighborhood. Let’s not forget that their- neighbors were the ones who were ready to trade the lives of the Jabeshis for eyeballs.
What comes to mind, though, is the question of the chicken and the egg. Which came first? How is anything ever going to change if we keep regarding these guys as people we should look up to? They eventually survived, and the history is worth knowing. But perhaps it’s time to move into the twenty-first century.
Maybe there is something to learn from the perspective of regarding the survivors as just that, and not so much as God’s chosen ones. Let’s not forget that these people didn’t even have the telescope through which to look at the heavens. How have we come to regard them as having special insight into the workings of the universe? Perhaps it would be good for us to remember they were struggling for survival against one another, not really trying to interpret reality or build a moral code–those were just kind of fringe benefits.
Of course enemies change. In Samuel’s day, the pressing dangers were the opposing tribes. In our time, we are, as a whole, our own worst enemies. Today the greatest threats are those brought on by the general success of all of humanity. Would you rather suffocate in car exhaust or drown in a rising sea? If we are to cope with today’s challenges, the only successful strategies seem more likely to involve cooperation amongst tribes (nations) than competition. Maybe it’s time for moral codes to change, too. Maybe we’re all in this together.
I’m just saying.
David desperately flees Saul. In Nob he feigns a secret mission from the King, and talks the priest, Ahimelech, out of some holy bread when hungry by lying. He gets Goliath’s old sword by the same technique when he thinks one of Saul’s men may have identified him (David was apparently unarmed because he had fled for his life so quickly).
He pretends to be crazy in order to not be taken by Achish, the King of Gath. Apparently Achish wanted nothing to do with a nutcase.
Leaving Nob, David goes to a cave, Adullam, where he contacts his family and then gathers some four hundred supporters together. Taking refuge at Mizpeh of Moab and then going to a forest near someplace called Hareth in Judah, David seems to be on the run for quite a while.
Meanwhile Saul gets word of David’s whereabouts during his escape to Judah. He confronts the priests from Nob and, after some wrangling with his underlings, who don’t want to harm David, and arguing with the priests, who unwittingly helped him while he was on the lam, has eighty-five of them killed. Then, continuing the tantrum, he destroys Nob and everything that lives in it, save Abiathar, a son of Ahimalesh, who escapes. When David learns of it from Abiathar, he feels guilty on account of the slaughter and extends shelter to the survivor.
Deciding to rescue Keilah from an assault by the Philjstines, David goes there with his men, a force of some 600 by now, despite the risk from Saul. Before he leaves, though, the Ziphites, who live in the vicinity of the cave at Adulllam, attempt to turn him over to Saul. They are frustrated by David’s move to the woods in the wilderness of Moab instead of the cave. David and Saul narrowly miss an encounter when they pass on opposite sides of a mountain.
Jonathan finds David In the woods and makes a pact with him in which he agrees to become David’s second in command as soon as all this running and hiding is over.
Saul receives a message that the Philistines have invaded and abandons the search for David. David retreats to Engedi, where strongholds give him rest and shelter.
Saul returns to the pursuit when the Philistine threat is dealt with, this time assembling some 3000 elite warriors taken from all of Israel. But he uses the cave in which David and his men are hiding for a bivouac one evening while trying to find the fugitive without noticing the presence of his quarry. David’s men urge him to take advantage of Saul’s carelessness by slaying him in his sleep. David refuses to do so, however, since he regards Saul as God’s King of Isreal. What he will do, though, is cut off some of Saul’s clothing in the night as proof of having had the opportunity to kill him, but no inclination to do so.
The next morning he confronts Saul, shows him the proof, and asks Saul what he has done to deserve his (Saul’s) wrath. Saul relents and gives up the continued effort to do David in. He goes home.
David apparently does not trust him, though, as he takes his men and goes into hiding again as soon as Saul is gone.
The first sentence of First Samuel twenty-five is one for the books, so to speak: “And Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah.” I regard this as such an important sentence because I can no longer blame what I don’t like in the Bible on Samuel. Obviously, nothing from here on out can be thought of as being influenced by him. Of course, there is always the possibility of an unreliable narrator, which may be thought to be enhanced by the later appearance of Samuel’s spirit, but let’s assume that is not the case here.
Whether connected to Samuel’s death or not is not made clear, but in the same verse we are told that David goes to the wilderness of Paran. From there he goes to the city of Maon, where a wealthy guy by the name of Nabal is in the process of shearing his sheep–the actual shearing taking place in Carmel, where David apparently encountered Nabal and his sheep, or, perhaps more importantly, his wealth. David sends Nabal a message, delivered via ten young men, that says something to the effect that he has not hurt any of Nabal’s interests so far, but he would like something in return for being protector of them, which seems to be how he regards his previous interactions with Nabal’s men.
Now, to this observer, David’s position sounds rather like the protection racket Al Capone ran in Chicago in the nineteen thirties. Sort of a “buy insurance from and my men won’t trash your place” kind of thing. At the very least, David had no contract with Nabal, and, in my opinion, no legitimate claim for reimbursement. That’s apparently also how Nabal saw it, for he rebuffs the messengers. David prepares to teach Nabal a lesson, and mounts a force of four hundred men to attack him. Abigail, Nabal’s wife, hears of it all, and intercedes on her husband’s behalf, bringing a ransom of raisins, fig cakes and prepared sheep out to meet David’s force and begs for his mercy. She apparently does so without Nabal’s knowledge.
David is glad not to have to let blood, and accepts her overture–or perhaps, in view of later developments, has other motivating factors influencing him. That evening Nabal celebrates, getting very drunk, and Abegail waits until the next morning to tell him of her little encounter with David. Although the cause and extent of the attack is not made clear, Nabal seems to be struck catatonic by the news, and dies some ten days later. David hears of this and sends messengers to retrieve Abigail to be his wife.
Abigail, with who knows how much glee or disappointment, agrees to the offer, taking several other women with her as she joins David’s band. David takes both she and another woman, Ahinoam, as wives, through means no longer known. David and Michal appear to no longer be a couple, Saul somehow having passed her on to a fellow named Phalti.
Perhaps this would be a good place for me to make some comments on how this all sets with me and my upbringing. There is little excuse, in my mind, for the way men treated women in those days. I am, frankly, astounded that the book of Samuel doesn’t spend at least as much time talking about the disposition of the two hundred foreskin dowry as the fate of Michal. There would seem to have been more concern about it than her. That’s just how men seem to rank the value of women versus property in those days, Of course, the value of a dowry of foreskins probably degraded with time, That’s my impression so far, anyway.
But I get it. The era was a very different world. The sword ruled, and men were much more likely to be able to kill women than the other way around. And killing seems to have been the only tool in a leader’s bag. Perhaps that’s the way it is still. I.e., “the only tool in the bag” bit. Now, though, “killing” seems to be directed mainly at peoples instead of at individuals. The Muslim-Christian conflict threatens not to be resolved short of one side killing off the other. I think Trump’s popularity and the appeal of ISIS both confirm the threat. Neither wants the other to survive, and each has a large following.
What are the lessons we can still gain by looking back at Samuel, Saul, and David, if any? For one, I would propose that survival is the main good–that the Philistines being good or bad is of little interest to us now, some three thousand years after their disappearance from the face of the earth. Probably more importantly, survival bears with it a kind of value of its own–there can be little doubt that the foreskin dowry story alone would have given David’s legacy a very different spin than we currently ascribe to him, without his, and the Israelite’s, eventual triumph.There would be almost nothing in this story to hold up as worthy of remembering otherwise. A third lesson may be that there comes a time in every fight–just like when they take place in the backseat of the car–that the adults(s) present just have to say ,”I don’t care who started it. Just stop!”
Times are very different now than they were then, but some things remain constant: despair rarely leads to victory. Nor does ignoring a real threat. The real threat is no longer our neighbor. We are now our own threat. How is it that those who hide from present-day threats are so much more likely to be the ones in our society who ascribe, at least in voice, to the values of the Bible? Where is the basis of denial in the history of the ancient middle east? Perhaps it lies largely with the fact that so few actually know what is written there? But I doubt such a straightforward explanation. As to the extent that we rely on the interpretations of the John Parks of the world, this may suffice, but I suspect it is more complicated than that. We choose to regard the history of our religious group and the history of the religion as the same. I hope they are not, or that, if they are, the ancient history of the Old Testament was truly superseded by the New Testament, which radiates a much more forgiving attitude than one gets from the Old Testament. It is past time that we realize our only hope lies in cooperation not competition. This comment springs from an earlier attempt I made to translate the King James version of the Bible that concentrated mostly on the New Testament. Jesus really was quite a radical! In many ways the fundamentalism with which I grew up never embraced that radical. By sticking to the Old Testament as much as we did, we never really had to. We were able to use what Jesus said whenever it suited us–for example the “enter the Kingdom Of Heaven” thing–without having to acknowledge the very real switch in attitudes represented by Christ’s teaching. There is a very substantial difference between the dowry of David and “turn the other cheek.” One can barely see them as residing in the same religion. Yet they are both parts of the same people´s history. Funny, but somehow I had hoped doing this translation might resolve that conflict, but, if anything, it has only brought it into sharper focus for me.