Below is the next installment of the Bible According to George. (I’m still in First Samuel) Some of you may have noticed that I have taken to posting to the blog at times other than Tuesdays at four. This is largely due to the fact that the Bible is so long, which I fully recognized only upon posting my interpretation of First and Scond Samuel. Add to that the fact I kind of like blogging, and you get my motivation. I hope.
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 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 on 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.
The Zephites., who apparently did not like David much, turn him in to Saul, revealing his location and goading Saul to come get him. Saul, fickle as ever, strikes out with a force of three thousand to get David once again. This time, David chooses, again, not to slay him in his sleep, taking his spear from his bedside and keeping his companion, Abishai, in his place. What is this with Saul? He repeatedly seems to fall asleep where David can get him, and never seems to have adequate security. Maybe Samuel’s judgement really wasn’t so good. No wonder David eventually replaces Saul.
Saul again relents in his efforts to kill David and returns home.
David decides that Saul always comes after him again, and decides his best chance of survival is to go on the lam in Philistine territory. Taking his band of six hundred men and their households, along with his current wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, David first dwells with Achish in Gath.. While there, Achish gives David Ziklag, a town of indeterminate locale, probably so that he will have somewhere else to go. David presumably likes the place, for it stays in Israelite control for a long time. David stays in Philistine territory for a year and four months, although how much that time is in Ziklag is not clear. They do not appear to have been tranquil, though. David seems to have been a bit of a bandit warlord. He apparently slays everyone who lived in the regions he visits and robs them or, more accurately, their estates, of everything valuable. Except Achish, whom he treats as one should a host. Achish begins to think he’s going to be stuck with David forever.
Chapter 28 is mostly the summary of a seance Saul arranges after the Philistines marshal their forces against Israel.
Saul was frightened by the Philistine army and couldn’t get any guidance from God. Samuel’s spirit does not take kindly to being bothered. He reminds Saul of his failure to kill the Amaleki and all they had outright, and is generally of nothing but a discouraging word, predicting all kinds of death and destruction for Saul and Israel.
In a fit of giving us much more than we ever wanted, First Samuel then goes on and on about how Saul hadn’t eaten, was weak, and how the people around him dealt with that. Really, I wonder why there was apparently no editor anywhere to be found when the Catholic Diocese, or whoever it was, voted to approve this book we hold so dear. As a modern writer, I would never get by with this amount of nonsense. Anyway, all’s well that ends well, and Saul and his men go home healthy and fed without killing anyone.
Of course, there is more to come, so it has yet to end. I suppose you could say it never will, not so long as we continue to breathe. That sort of makes one wonder how much longer that will be. But let’s not go there, either.
Now Achish is a Philistine, so he’s expected to join them in battle against the Israelites. David is a guest of Achish, and an Israelite to boot, so the Philistines do not want him in their ranks, even though he is somewhat expected to join them. David is also very good on the field of battle, so the Philistines ask Achish to get him to leave. Achish does so, being very careful not to hurt David’s feelings. I have the impression that everyone sort of tiptoes around David.
But, tippy toe or not, David leaves Achish’s house, returning to the land of the Philistines that he had been raiding, if I understand it correctly. Meanwhile, the Philistines head for Jezrael, wherever that is.
At Ziklag, David discovers that the Amalekites, whom I’ve apparently been mistakenly calling Amalis, had raided the village, burned it, and kidnapped both Ahinoam and Abigail, David’s wives, as well as the rest of the women and children in town. For unclear reasons apparently related to blaming him for the raid, the Ziklagites, I guess it is, want to stone David. David consults God, using the local priest’s ephod, whatever that is, and, assured by God of victory, sets out in pursuit of the Amalekites. He leaves two hundred men, out of his force of six hundred, at the crossing of a river called the Besor, because they are too tired to go on. Needless to say, David overtakes the Amalekites, kills almost all of them (some escape on camels), and recovers all they had taken plus a lot they had plundered in the countryside. This later becomes known as David’s spoil, or maybe “spoil” is all of it, I’m not too clear on that.
There follows a major discussion of the dispensation of David’s spoil. I am not too sure of my interpretation, but this is how it looks to me: David overrules those in his troop of four hundred, who seem mainly set on keeping it for those who actually went with David to secure it, and gives equal shares to all Israelites, including the two hundred who were too tired to cross the Besor and those, even, who had not set out with them in the first place. It apparently becomes the law of the Israeli land that all spoils of war will be equally shared by all Israelites.
Chapter 31 is all about Saul’s death. The Philistines mount a decisive battle against Saul’s forces at Gilboa, killing Jonathan, Abinadab, and Mlchinsua, Saul’s sons, and seriously wounding Saul himself via archery fire. Saul and his armor bearer commit suicide. The Philistines find the bodies, behead Saul’s, and display the bodies prominently. The Israelites abandon their cities to the Philistines but the men of Jabesh-gilead manage to retrieve the bodies and burn them, burying the bones under a tree at Jabesh.
Second Samuel, AKA: The Second Book Of The Kings
David hears of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths from an Amalekite who fled Saul’s camp as it fell. Unfortunately for the Amalekite, he also may have helped Saul commit suicide and made the additional mistake of bringing Saul’s crown and bracelet to David. David, knowing a messenger bearing bad news when he sees him, has the messenger slain.
Of course, given David’s checkered history with Saul, one wonders why David would have found Saul’s demise such bad news. Oh well, at least we know the start of the famous saying about killing the messenger.
The last bit of Chapter One seems to be devoted to David’s remorse over the whole thing. Some of the remorse for Jonathan is so pointed that it raises the conjecture that their relationship may have been deeper than male on male was supposed to be. At the very least, one could easily speculate.
As simply a matter of being mentioned in passing, David also moved archery up on the training list for his troops.
The death of Saul left the Israelites in a bit of a political morass. David, apparently with the support of somebody called Joab, the son of Zeruiah, is crowned King of Judah, and Ishboeh, one of Saul’s living sons, takes over most of Israel with Abner’s (Saul’s chief of staff) support.
There is some sort of showdown at the pool in Gibeon, which I had not heard of before. I can’t even really say whether it was a battle or some sort of contest between forces, similar to Goliath’s challenge to the Israelites. At any rate, David’s side wins. Following the battle, or contest, or whatever, Isahel, the brother of Joab and another sibling named Abishai, is killed by Abner with a blow beneath the fifth rib using the wrong end of a spear (very likely information of the “more than I needed to know” variety), after many warnings.
There is some sort of truce called between Joab and Abner, and they return to their strongholds. David’s forces lost some twenty men, Abner’s some three hundred and sixty; pretty much standard for David versus anyone, so far as I can tell.
Now David’s forces grew stronger, while Saul loyalists grew weaker, over a long conflict between them. David has several sons by several wives: Amnon by Ahinoam, Chilean by Abigail, Absalom by Macah a daughter of Talmai king of Geshur, Abonijah by Haggith, Shephatiah by Abital, and Ithream,by Eglah. These were all born in Hebron, a very good place for David, apparently.
Meanwhile Abner becomes the leader of the Saul loyalists (But Saul is already dead, so I suppose it would be better to call them loyalists to the House of Saul).The next bit is rather convoluted. It seems Abner and Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, have something of a fight because of Abner’s bedding Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines. Why this would bother anyone defies me, but apparently it did. Ishbosheth fears Abner and apparently stifles his objections. Abner decides to throw his lot in with David. David wants Ishbosheth to help him regain his former wife, Michal–whom Saul gave away–in an episode not apparently preserved for posterity–after David more than met his request of a dowry of 100 Philistine foreskins and David’s marriage to her–from her current husband, Phaltiel.
Is anyone confused yet?
Anyway, Ishbosheth helps David out, as does Abner, who sets David up, through alliances, to take over as King of Israel. Joab, whose brother Asahel, was killed in battle by Abner, doesn’t take kindly to the rapprochement between Abner and David. He, and perhaps his brother, Abishai, manage to kill Abner. David comes out of it all smelling of roses, praising Abner and being free of blame for his death.
Chapter 4 is hard for me to be confident of my translation. It seems that Ishbosheth, Sauil’s son, had two servants, Baanah and Rechab who were “captains of bands,” and somehow connected to the Benjamins. Jonathan, also Saul’s son, had a boy, Mephibosheth, who was lame in his feet from birth. Just as a “by the way” we learn that his handicap is made worse in a fall, when his nurse, in a panic, tries to take him and flee on news of Saul’s and his dad’s deaths. He was only five then. These two, Baanah and Rechab, kill Ishbosheth by a blow beneath the fifth rib and behead him.
I do not know what the significance of being killed by “being struck below the fifth rib” is, but it clearly bears some meaning. Or, at least, it did. Frankly, though, I couldn’t care less.
They take his head to David in Hebron, apparently a considerable distance, in the belief David will rejoice in their having avenged Saul’s hostility over the years and having ended the rivalry twixt Saul’s house and David’s. They have misread him, though. He is not pleased and doubles down on his earlier treatment of the messenger who brought word of Saul’s death by executing them. It was a complicated time. He cuts off the hands and feet from the bodies and hangs them in a public place. He buries the head in the sepulchre of Abner in that same city.
David makes an agreement with the elders of Israel in which he becomes the King of Israel. In a bit of confusing text, we learn that David was thirty when he began to reign. I think this means when he began to reign in Hebron. It was forty years later he died as King of Israel. He has many more children while in Jerusalem by many more women, including eleven that are identified as sons, and named in my Bible. There appears to be some reluctance to accept him as their King from the inhabitants of Jerusalem and its surroundings., the Jebusites. Their resistance is overcome when David uses some local supporters, the exact means of which is not clear to me, but it appears to involve use of force. There is some sort of saying about the lame and sick that has its history in this resistance, and its defeat, but I don’t fully understand it.
David revels in his success, and attributes it to the Lord’s blessing. Hiram, king of Tyre, builds him a house built of cedar, and David get laid a lot. The Philistines make an effort to attack David when they learn of his new status, but David successfully counterattacks.
Now David fetches the Ark of the Lord out of the house of Abinadab in Gibeah, or maybe it was Baale in Judah–or perhaps those are the same place–taking thirty thousand men and building a new cart for the Ark. Huzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab drive the cart. The Israelites play all sorts of instruments in the Ark’s honor. But Uzzah makes the mistake of touching the Ark in an effort to still it’s being shaken by the oxen pulling the cart. The Ark, in a typical “don’t mess with me” hissy fit, slays Uzzah. David didn’t take kindly to the Lord’s actions, which I suppose the Lord allowed Kings to do then, and named the place Perezuzzah. More cheeky, it seems to me, then trying to keep the Ark from being harmed by the oxen. But what do I know? The Lord works in mysterious ways. Anyway, David thought hosting the Ark in too much proximity to his own house might not be such a good idea. So he gives it to Obededom for safe keeping. I’m not sure of Obededom’s relationship to David, but, if I were him, I’d make myself scarce from here on out.
But Obededom seems to thrive, so David reclaims the Ark after three months and houses it in the city of David. Nonetheless, David is careful to give sacrifices, song and dance, etc. as he moves the Ark. Michal, the lady of many foreskins, is not impressed. Supposedly she despises David because of it.
David gets carried away here, so far as I can see. In a display he later claims is intended for the Lord, but Michal thinks is really aimed at the maidens in the audience, David apparently goes nearly naked. In view of how many women David got pregnant, one can easily suspect Michal may have had reason to be suspicious. At any rate, she and David never really reconcile. Or,at least she never has a baby by him.
David’s relationship to Michal intrigues me. I fancy we don’t know the story of her getting another husband after David because she left David for him and it is not something the historians felt should be newsworthy. Doesn’t fit the narrative, so to speak. David seems rather stuck on her, though. Not only did he double the original dowry, but he bargained to get her back from the new husband, Phaltiel. (There seems to be some debate over whether this was largely some attempt on David’s part to regain his position of respect in Saul’s household, but I don’t see it in the text.)