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Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Samuel 21 to 1 Samuel 31

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapter 21 through 31 are the final chapters of 1 Samuel. They continue the story of the conflict between David and Saul, culminating in Saul's death. The stories in these chapters aren't as famous as other Bible stories, but I personally liked the one where a medium was able to bring somebody's spirit back from the dead.

1 Samuel, Chapter 21

In the previous chapter, David made his final exit from Saul's court, after it was clear that Saul was trying to kill him. The conflict between them is now in full swing, with David beginning to build up his own band of forces.

David's first stop was the priest Ahimelech in Nob. The priest fed them holy bread (all of David's men had "kept themselves from women" so that they were clean enough to eat the bread). David also got Goliath's sword while he was there, which the priest had been keeping. Unfortunately, Doeg the Edomite, who was the chief of Saul's shepherds, was in Ahimelech at the time. There was no incident in this chapter, but it was setting up a conflict to come.

After leaving Nob, David went to King Achish of Gath. However, the king was very afraid of David due to his reputation as a great warrior, so David was afraid of what the kind might do, and so pretended to be a mad man in his presence, after which King Achish sent him away.

1 Samuel, Chapter 22

Next David went to "the cave of Adullam", which the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) notes might be better translated as "the stronghold of Adullam". Numerous people gathered with him there, until he had a force of about 400 people. At the same time, he sent his parents to King Moab for their own safety. After a time, the prophet Gad told David to leave the stronghold and go to Judah, where he hid in the forest of Hereth.

Next, the story jumped back to Saul, who made a speech to his followers putting down David. Then, Doeg the Edomite relayed to Saul what had happened in Nob, so Saul sent for Ahimelech. After talking with Ahimelech, Saul told his guards to kill the priest, but the guard refused. So Doeg stepped up, and killed 85 priests, and put the city of Nob "to the sword", kill men, women, children, and livestock. I suppose this is all meant to make Saul look bad, but it's not too far out of line with how God told Saul to treat other cities. Perhaps this is meant to specifically contrast with that, and how Saul had disobeyed when it was God's command, but now he was doing that very thing against a city devoted to God.

One person escaped from Nob, Abiathar, son of Ahimelech, and went to David to tell him what had happened.

1 Samuel, Chapter 23

The Philistines were giving Israel a hard time again, this time in Keilah. So, after inquiring of the Lord what to do, David took his men and "rescued the inhabitants of Keilah." When Saul heard where David and his men were, he said, "God has given him into my hand; for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars." Apparently, Saul still thought he was in good graces with Yahweh. However, David used the ephod to question God, learned that Saul was planning to attack, and fled to the Wilderness of Ziph before he could be trapped.

Jonathan met with David in the wilderness, reaffirming their friendship and the loyalty between them, and also saying that both he and Saul knew that David would become the next king.

Next, some Ziphites informed Saul where David was, so Saul took some men to confront David. This section set up a scene you'd expect to see in an action movie. David and his men were on one side of a mountain, rushing to get away from Saul. Saul and his men were on the other side of the mountain, closing in on David. It looked as if the hero was going to get caught, when a messenger came to Saul with news that a Philistine raiding party had attacked Israel, so Saul had to abandon the chase and go defend the people.

1 Samuel, Chapter 24

David and his men took up hiding in a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi. Saul pursued them there, but didn't know just exactly where they were. Well, Saul decided to enter a cave by himself "to relieve himself", and just happened to pick the cave where David was hiding. David's men tried to convince him to kill Saul while he had the chance, but David refused to kill "the Lord's anointed", and instead went and cut a corner off of Saul's cloak.

After Saul left the cave, David followed and revealed himself, and showed the piece of cloak he had cut off, as a symbol that he could have killed Saul, but didn't. He gave a speach about how faithful he still was, and how he would never harm Saul. Saul responded with a short speach of his own, acknowledging David's righteousness, admitting that David would one day become king, and asking David not to punish his (Saul's) descendents when that day came. After that, Saul returned home, while David returned to his stronghold.

1 Samuel, Chapter 25

After a single verse mentioning that Samuel had died, next came a story revealing the darker side of David. David came upon the property of a rich man named Nabal. The name Nabal in itself could be a sign that this is an allegory, as Nabal can mean fool. The name also has other meanings, all of which seem to fit into this story (for example, it sounds very much like wine skin). Nabal's servants were in the process of shearing sheep, which is supposed to be a time of celebration. So David sent some
of his men to ask Nabal for gifts. However, the asking was more like extortion, "I hear that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel." It almost sounds like a mob boss.

Nabal told the men that he saw David as nothing more than a rebel, and refused to give him anything. Once the men relayed the story to David, he strapped on his sword and was leading his men to kill Nabal. But Nabal's wife, Abigail, heard what was going on and intervened. She took "two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs" to give to David. After apologizing for her husband and stroking David's ego, she said, "And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord." 'Present' is a pretty polite term under those circumstances. It reminds me of the Italian restaurant in the town where I grew up that forgot to pay their 'insurance' and had a little problem with a gas explosion.

So, David spared Nabal and his household, and not long after Nabal died after drinking too much at a party. With that, Abigail went to follow David, becoming one of his wives. The closing verse listed another of David's wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and mentioned that Saul gave David's first wife, Michal, to Palti son of Laish.

1 Samuel, Chapter 26

Chapter 26 contains a story that seems to be a different version of the one already told in Chapter 24. Some Ziphites told Saul where David was hiding, so Saul took a force to confront him. This time, David snuck into Saul's camp, rather than Saul stumbling into David's cave. David and his men found Saul asleep, and David's men tried to get David to allow them to kill Saul (by running him through with his own spear). Like in Chapter 24, David wouldn't let anyone "raise his hand against the Lord's anointed". Instead, he stole Saul's spear and water jug. Once he was far enough away on top of a hill, David called out to Saul's army. After taunting Abner, the leader of Saul's army, for a bit, there was a similar back and forth between David and Saul as in Chapter 24.

1 Samuel, Chapter 27

David decided to leave Israel completely so that Saul would quit chasing him, and went to King Achish of Gath. This time, there was none of the subterfuge with pretending to be a mad man like in Chapter 21, and no hard feelings from King Achish for that previous episode (perhaps because the stories come from different traditions). King Achish gave David the city of Ziklag. From there, David would launch raiding parties on the Geshurites and Amalekites, but told Achish that he was raiding Judah and Israel. To make sure Achish never found out about the actual raids, David would kill every last person from the towns he raided so that there were no survivors to inform Achish. In this way, David won Achish's favor, since Achish though David had abandoned his own people.

1 Samuel, Chapter 28

The first few verses of Chapter 28 were a closing to the story from the previous chapter, where Achish made David one of his bodyguards, and David responded with the rather cryptic statement (since the reader knows David's true intentions), "Very well, then you shall know what your servant can do."

After that, it moved on to what I consider to be one of the most interesting stories I've read in the Bible so far. The Philistines were gathering against Israel, so Saul tried to inquire of God what to do, but "the Lord did not answer him, not by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets." So Saul sought out a medium. He had to approach her in a disguise, as he had previously driven all the mediums from Israel, and she was afraid for her life since she was breaking the King's law. Saul asked the medium to "Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you." He asked her to bring forth Samuel. And she did. She brought forth Samuel, "a divine being coming up out of the ground." The medium was scared once she realized who Saul was, but he promised that she she would be safe.

Samuel was not happy with being disturbed from his eternal slumber, but Saul still explained his situation. Samuel rebuked him, explaining "the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy" (i.e. not utterly destroying the Amalekites). He ended his visit by telling Saul that he (Saul) and his sons would be with Samuel the next day.

Saul was understandably distraught by all this, but the medium managed to calm him some before he left, making him a meal of a fatted calf and unleavened cakes.

1 Samuel, Chapter 29

David was with King Achish while the Philistines were gathering their forces, but the other Philistine commanders weren't happy with David's presence. Achish tried to defend David as he thought David had been loyal to him, but the other Philistine commanders insisted that David not participate in the upcoming battle, lest he turn against them. So Achish reluctantly followed their wishes, and asked David to return to Ziklag before the battle, which he did.

1 Samuel, Chapter 30

When David and his men arrived back in Ziklag, they found their town burned down and all the women and children gone. While the men were off preparing for battle with the Philistines, the Amalekites had raided the city out of revenge for David's previous raids and taken captive all "their wives and sons and daughters" (This does call into question the claim that David and his men had left no survivors in their raids). So, David's men were furious and on the verge of revolt, but David managed to maintain control and prepare his forces to go rescue their women and children. David used an ephod to get instructions from the Lord.

During their pursuit, they found an Egyptian who had been a servant to one of the Amalekites, but who was left behind when he fell ill. After promising not to kill him or turn him back over to his prior master, the Egyptian agreed to take David's men to the Amalekites. They found the Amalekites partying
and attacked them without warning, killing all but 400 of them. And of course, they rescued everybody and got a little extra spoil for themselves.

A few of David's men hadn't been able to keep up with the main party, and had stayed behind with the baggage. Some of the men who had actually fought with the Philistines didn't want to share their spoils, but David insisted that everybody "shall share alike".

David also shared some of the soils with elders of Judah, winning support with them.

1 Samuel, Chapter 31

Samuel's post mortem prophecy to Saul came true. The battle with Philistines took place, and it didn't turn out well for Israel. The Philistines killed Saul's sons, including Jonathan. Then the archers wounded Saul himself. saul didn't want to suffer the humilition of being killed by a Philistine, so he asked his armour-bearer to kill him first. But the armour-bearer was too terrified to comply, so Saul fell on his own sword and killed himself. Once the armour-bearer realized what was going on, he did the same thing.

The Israeli army fled and the Philistines conquered their towns. Once they found Saul's body, "They cut off his head, stripped off his armour, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people." They kept his armor, but hung his body and his sons' on the wall outside Beth-shan. But the people of Jabesh-gilead learned what had happened, and traveled to Beth-shan to take the bodies back down. After cremating them (an uncommon practice for the Hebrews), they took the bones to Jabesh to be buried.

The NOAB made a good point about these chapters. The writer(s) made quite a point to show that David had nothing to do with Saul's death - from having opportunities to kill him and refusing, to being nowhere near Saul when he actually did die. The NOAB suggested it might be a case of protesting too much. Maybe according to some versions of the story, David had tried to kill Saul, or even had something to do with his death, so the compilers of this version went out of their way to show that David had nothing to do with it.


So, that's the end of 1 Samuel. However, 2 Samuel picks up right where it left off (they were originally the same book), so it's not the end of the narrative. The were some famous stories in 1 Samuel, particularly David and Goliath, but my personal favorite is the one where a medium was able to bring somebody's spirit back from the dead.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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