Friday Bible Blogging Archive

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Kings 1 to 1 Kings 10

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).

BibleIn a similar manner to 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings were at one point a single book (which, as for almost every book of the Bible, was derived from multiple sources, itself). It was the Greek translation that divided the collection into two books, out of convenience to make manageable sized scrolls.

Together with Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, the Book(s) of Kings is part of the Deuteronomistic history, and so continues on with the narrative of 2 Samuel. The first ten chapters contain some well known stories & characters, such as the story of Solomon proposing to cut a baby in half, and a visit from the Queen of Sheba, as well as the construction of the First Temple.

1 Kings, Chapter 1

The opening story of 1 Kings had a subtext that I didn't recognize until I read the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB). King David was old, and like many of the elderly, was having a hard time keeping warm. His advisors suggested that he get a young virgin to snuggle up with, but "the king did not know her sexually." According to the NOAB, virility went hand in hand with the authority to rule, so this act of getting David a young virgin was an attempt to restore his virility. But by failing to have sex with her, it was clear that David was no longer fit for the throne.

With David old and decrepit, his oldest son, Adonijah, decided it was time to take the throne for himself. He consolidated his supporters (including Joab and Abiathar), and then threw a feast (with obligatory animal sacrificing) to cement his position. Meanwhile, Bathsheba and Nathan approach David, to let him know what was happening, and remind him of his promise (not mentioned previously) that Solomon would succeed him. David reaffirmed his promise, and gave instructions for Solomon's coronation. He was to ride David's own mule to Gihon, where the priests, Nathan and Zadok, would "anoint him king over Israel". So Solomon was crowned king, and there was much rejoicing in the streets.

When Adonijah and his companions heard the commotion, they learned what had happened, and became afraid for their lives. In what will be a mini theme in coming chapters, "Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar." Apparently, this was a form of asylum. When Solomon heard of this, he sent word that Adonijah would be spared, so long as he was good, "but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die." So for now, at least, Adonijah was safe.

There was a point of discontinuity when Bathsheba and Nathan approached David, regarding whether Bathsheba was in the room or not - just one more instance of a seam left behind from joining multiple prior sources.

1 Kings, Chapter 2

David's days were numbered, and he knew it, so he called Solomon to give him his last words of advice and requests. The advice was of the generic sort you'd expect - be good and follow the Lord. And some of his requests were expected as well - to deal well with people who had been good to David. But some of his other requests were surprising. One had to do with Joab. Joab had been portrayed as a ruthless man in 1 and 2 Samuel, but David hadn't punished him at all for it. But now that David was dying, he was putting that responsibility on Solomon, "Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his grey head go down to Sheol in peace." Considering that Joab had supported Adonijah, this may have been simply a justification for Solomon to eliminate a rival. There was also Shimei son of Gera, who had cursed David on his way to Mahanaim, but whom David had pardoned and promised, "I will not put you to death with the sword" (another story that I don't recognize from previously in the Bible). However, David took that promise very literally. David couldn't kill Shimei with the sword, but Solomon could. And so David instructed Solomon, "you must bring his grey head down with blood to Sheol." With his final words spoken, David died a peaceful death.

Adonijah approached Bathsheba, and asked her to ask Solomon for a favor. Adonijah wanted to marry Abishag, the young virgin who had been brought to David in Chapter 1. Bathsheba passed on the request to Solomon, and he was furious. Given the role of concubines in that culture, if Adonijah had married and slept with the previous king's concubine, it would have given him a legitimate claim to rule. So Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada to strike down and kill Adonijah.

Next it was time to deal with Abiathar, the priest who had supported Adonijah. Solomon spared his life, but basically put him on house arrest, never to leave his estate.

When Joab learned of Adonijah's death, "Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and grasped the horns of the altar." But Solomon didn't spare him, and sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada to kill Joab.

With Joab dead and Abiathar banished, Joab replaced them with Benaiah and Zadok, respectively.

Now, it was time to deal with Shimei. Solomon commanded him to build a house for himself in Jerusalem, and to never leave the city. If he ever did, then he would be put to death. Well, a few years later, his slaves ran away, and he chased them down to Gath. Word got out to Solomon, and so he had Benaiah strike down Shimei, as well.

1 Kings, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 opened with a story of Solomon marrying the Egyptian Pharaoh's daughter, forming an alliance. The NOAB notes that there's no record of this outside the Bible.

Solomon was good and loved the Lord, but it was pointed out that he committed the sin of "he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places." Still, he had a good relationship with God, and on one of his trips to the principal high place at Gibeon, God visited him in a dream. This is the rather well known story where God offered Solomon a gift, and Solomon asked for wisdom to lead his people. This noble request demonstrated his worth, and was granted by the Lord, along with "both riches and honour all your life". Upon waking up, Solomon returned to Jerusalem and offered up sacrifices before the ark of the covenant.

Next came probably the most famous story involving Solomon. Two prostitutes came to him to settle a dispute. They had both had newborn babies, but one of the babies had died. The one prostitute claimed that the other had laid on her own baby and killed him, and then had swapped the babies in the middle of the night while the other prostitute was asleep, stealing the live baby for her own. Of course, the other prostitute denied this. To settle the dispute, Solomon called for his sword, to cut the baby in half to give each prostitute a half of the baby. One prostitute was fine with that verdict, but the other insisted that the baby go to the other prostitute, so long as it wasn't killed. With that, Solomon knew that the true mother was the one willing to give up the baby to save its life.

The story concluded with a bit of hyperbole, "All Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice." It was a clever story, but nothing that would make people stand "in awe of the king".

The NOAB noted that Solomon's name was never actually mentioned throughout the story - he was referred to merely as "the king". This is an indication that the story may have originated as an independent folk tale, and then later been incorporated into the legend of Solomon.

1 Kings, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 was almost a bookkeeping chapter. It started off listing his highest officials. Notably, Abiathar was still listed as a priest (possibly suggesting an alternate source to the story of Abiathar being exiled). There were also 12 officials in charge of the different regions of Israel, almost like governors, though the regions didn't match exactly with the tribes. Next came a listing of Solomon's provisions.

The chapter closed with a bit of hyperbole about Solomon that was so over the top that it seemed more like fawning than anything believable - "Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else..." and a bit later, "People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom."

1 Kings, Chapter 5

King Hiram of Tyre had been an ally of David's, so he sent a good-will envoy to Solomon and they reaffirmed their friendship. Solomon said that he intended to finally build a temple for the Lord (which had been denied David), and asked Hiram to provide cedar in exchange for wheat and oil.

There was a phrase I noted in a previous book, but which still sounds barbaric to me, "You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet." It reminds me of images from Mesoamerican art where victors would stand on the heads of their enemies.

Verse 13 stated that "King Solomon conscripted forced labour out of all Israel..." to build the temple, and the remainder of the chapter described the beginnings of the work.

1 Kings, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 was all about the construction of the temple. It went into great detail on the dimensions and details, though thankfully, not as repetitiously or in as much detail as Exodus gave for the Tent of Meeting. It took just over seven years to build. It's worth noting that the temple wasn't really a temple in the sense of people going to worship there - it was an earthly abode for the Lord, and so wasn't particularly large.

Verse 7 caught my eye, "The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built." If you recall from Exodus 20:25 and Deuteronomy 27:5, God had already given instructions that iron tools weren't to be used in making altars. Also recall from Judges 1:19 that God couldn't "drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron." It almost makes it seem like iron is God's kryptonite. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. I've seen other interpretations that the ban on tools at the work site was to maintain peace and quiet, to maintain the holiness of the site. I also read that the ban on iron tools in general was to keep people from carving idols.

1 Kings, Chapter 7

Chapter 7 contained more construction details, from Solomon's own house, the House of the Forest of the Lebanon, to other buildings on the site, including the Hall of Pillars and the Hall of the Throne. The chapter also detailed many of the adornments, including mentioning the master craftsman by name, Hiram from Tyre (not the king).

There was one passage here that some overzealous skeptics like to use to indicate that the Bible indicates that Pi is equal to three, "Then he made the cast sea; it was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high. A line of thirty cubits would encircle it completely." I've discussed this interpretation before in the entry, Does the Bible Really Say Pi = 3. In short, I think it's one of the weakest arguments against the Bible that somebody could come up with.

With all the buildings completed, Solomon transferred his treasuries to their new locations.

1 Kings, Chapter 8

Now it was time to bring the ark of the covenant to the temple. There was great fanfare and ritual, and of course, animal sacrifices, "so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered". There was a verse that stated, "There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb...". This was apparently to counter the belief that God resided in the ark, itself. Once the priests had put the ark in the inner sanctuary and then left the building, "a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." This presence as a cloud is another indication of Yahweh as a storm god.

Solomon gave a speech to all those assembled at the temple, exalting God, instructing the people on how to pray, etc.. He did note that the temple wasn't God's actual dwelling, but merely symbolic, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!" I wonder about the evolution of this belief. Did the Israelites see the temple as an actual dwelling when it was first built, and then modify the story as their religion evolved? Or was their understanding of God already of an incorporeal being by the time the temple was constructed? Given some of the passages I've noted in other portions of the Bible, even in my entry last week on 2 Samuel, I suspect the former.

With Solomon's prayer/speech over, it was time to get to the sacrificing - "twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred and twenty thousand sheep." Just imagine the slaughter if it were true.

The festival lasted for seven days, after which everybody went back home.

1 Kings, Chapter 9

God visited Solomon again, reaffirming their covenant, and reminding Solomon that it was conditional on him and the Israelites remaining faithful to God.

In reward for his faithfulness, Solomon gave King Hiram a gift of twenty cities. But Hiram wasn't very impressed with them, "So they are called the land of Cabul to this day," where Cabul means 'a land good for nothing'. Still, Hiram sent gold back to Solomon.

Next came a listing of all the forced labor - the peoples and cities that had been enslaved. In contradiction to Verse 13 of Chapter 5, Verse 22 of this chapter stated that, "But of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves; they were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, and the commanders of his chariotry and cavalry.".

After that listing came a listing of officers, then a note about the house Solomon had built for his daughter, Solomon's practice of offering sacrifices three times a year, and finally a short note about a fleet of sheeps that he had built.

1 Kings, Chapter 10

Chapter 10 contains the story of the famous Queen of Sheba. She came to Israel bearing all manner of gifts for Solomon, including around 4 tons of gold. In return, "King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba every desire that she expressed, as well as what he gave her out of Solomon's royal bounty." They discussed various topics that weren't detailed, and the Queen praised Solomon for his wisdom. And when her visit was over, the Queen of Sheba returned to her own land.

Verse 14 noted that Solomon received 666 talents of gold per year. Besides being the mark of the beast, that's a lot of gold. Going by what Wikipedia tells me, the ancient Israelite talent was about 67 lbs, meaning 666 talents would be about 22 tons. With all that gold, Solomon made a variety of items for his palace and the temple, not to mention using it for overlay.

There was some more hyperbole on Solomon, "Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. The whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind."

The chapter closed with a listing of all the horses and chariots he had.


From a skeptical perspective, I find it interesting that there are all these descriptions of Solomon being the wisest and most revered king to have ever lived, with people coming from far and wide just to hear him, while there's just about zero evidence of Solomon outside the Bible. I mean, everybody's heard of Ramses (aka Rameses or Ramesses). That was a famous king, known to people outside his kingdom, and who we can find plenty of evidence for. But Solomon, supposedly the greatest king of all time, left behind just about zero archaeological evidence or historical records. I mean, Josephus cited records for when King Hiram was supposed to have sent materials to Solomon, but Josephus was around almost 1000 years after Solomon's supposed rule. To put that in perspective, that's about the same separation in time as the present day and the Norman invasion of England.

The hyperbole also makes it hard to take these writers too seriously. It's hard to imagine people actually reacting the way the writers describe it.

All in all, though, this book, so far, is very similar to 1 and 2 Samuel (as should probably be expected). It carries on the narrative in much the same way, with enough detail to keep the stories interesting, only getting bogged down a bit by detailed descriptions of the temple complex.

For those interested, the following link contains a great drawing of what the temple might have looked like:
The Knights of Templar - Temple of Solomon

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.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Samuel 11 to 2 Samuel 24

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).

BibleChapters 11 through 24 were the final chapters of 2 Samuel. They continued on with the themes of civil war and fighting over who was the rightful king of Israel. Of course, David came out on top.

2 Samuel, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 opened with a verse that treats war and violence very casually, "In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah." The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) gives another translation, though, that isn't so bad, "A year after the kings had gone out to battle...".

While the armies were out fighting, David stayed behind in Jerusalem, and one afternoon while strolling about atop the roof of his palace, he saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing. So he had her brought to him so that he could sleep with her. Unfortunately, she was already married. David sent for her husband, Uriah, calling him back from the rest of the troops. This was mainly a ploy to give Uriah a chance to sleep with his wife so that if she became pregnant, there wouldn't be any suspicion on David. David also tried giving Uriah gifts, apparently to ease his own conscience. But Uriah showed his worth and loyalty by refusing to return to his own house to sleep in a comfortable bed with his wife while all of the other troops were still out in the fields, even a second night went David got him drunk. David sent Uriah back to the front lines, and instructed his commander, Joab, to put Uriah in a position where the enemy would strike him down. Before he could follow through on the king's wishes, Joab made a tactical mistake in a battle, but Uriah died in that skirmish. So, Joab was able to cover up his mistake, and David got to see Uriah killed in battle. And of course, Bathsheba became pregnant.

When Bathsheba was done with her period of mourning, David brought her to his house and made her his wife, "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord".

2 Samuel, Chapter 12

God sent the prophet Nathan to David. And Nathan told David a story about a rich man who "had very many flocks and herds", and a poor man who only had "one little ewe lamb". One day, when a guest came to the rich man's house, instead of killing one of his own flock, he took the only lamb from the poor man to slaughter and prepare a meal. Upon hearing this story, David was furious at the rich man. And of course, Nathan told him that the story was really about him, and what he had done to Uriah. Further, the Lord was mad at David, and was going to punish him, " I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun."

And David's first punishment was the death of the child bore by Bathsheba. But it wasn't an instant death. No, first God made the innocent infant suffer with illness for a week while David pleaded with God for the baby's life, before the baby finally died.

After consoling Bathsheba, David and her conceived another baby, Solomon, who was also called Jedidiah, or 'Beloved of the Lord'.

The chapter closed with Joab bringing Rabbah's royal city to the brink of capture, and calling on David to be there for the actual conquering. And when they did, "He brought out the people who were in it, and set them to work with saws and iron picks and iron axes, or sent them to the brickworks. Thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites." So apparently, the only reason slavery was horrible way back in Exodus was because it was the Hebrews being enslaved. Now that the Hebrews were powerful, it was just fine for them to enslave other people.

2 Samuel, Chapter 13

One of David's sons, Amnon, became smitten with his half sister, Tamar. He pretended to be sick so that she would come tend to him, and while she was there he raped her. But once he had done that, he became disgusted with her and sent her away in shame. According to the NOAB, not marrying her after what he'd done was an even greater dishonor than raping her in the first place. So, as a sign of her disgrace, she tore her garments and put ashes on her head.

Tamar's full brother, Absalom, was furious with Amnon, but bid his time. Two years later, when it came time for the sheep shearing, Absalom threw a great feast for all of his brothers. It should be noted that Amnon was the eldest living brother (the actual first born had died), and so was next in line for the throne, followed by Absalom. When Amnon was getting tipsy off of wine, Absalom had him killed by his servants, in revenge for what he'd done to Tamar. The rest of the brothers scattered in fear, thinking this might have been a political assassination rather than a revenge kiling. Absalom fled to Geshur, where he would end up staying for three years. Upon the first report to David, he feared that all of his sons were dead, but eventually learned the truth.

In the final verse of the chapter, the NOAB notes a discrepancy in the translation of that verse that greatly alters the meaning of the story. The NRSV translated the verse as, "And the heart of the king went out, yearning for Absalom; for he was now consoled over the death of Amnon." According to the NOAB, the first part of that verse is better translated as, "The king's spirit for marching out against Absalom was exhausted." David wasn't yearning for Absalom - he was trying to capture him. This alternate translation given in the NOAB fits much better with the rest of the story, particularly considering what transpires in the next chapter.

2 Samuel, Chapter 14

Chapter 14 contained another setup like the one from Nathan in Chapter 12. This time, it was David's commander, Joab, who found a woman and put her up to the task. She had an audience with David, and told a story of how her husband had died, and then one day her two sons got into a fight and the one killed the other. Now, people were calling for her to turn over the living son so that he could be put to death, but she couldn't bear to lose her last son. When David said that the son should be able to return and be forgiven, the woman turned the tables on him and asked why he wouldn't allow Absalom to return. It came out that Joab was behind the whole thing, so David went to Joab and told him to go get Absalom and bring him back home. But it was still two years before David would actually meet with Absalom. And even then, it took Absalom lighting Joab's barley fields on fire to get the attention of the king to gain an audience. But in the end, David forgave Absalom.

2 Samuel, Chapter 15

Absalom began to undercut David's authority. Absalom would wait out near the gate of the city, and when people came intending to talk to the king about their problems, Absalom would intercept them and hear their problems, instead, "Thus Absalom did to every Israelite who came to the king for judgement; so Absalom stole the hearts of the people of Israel."

After four years of Absalom building up his own power, he staged a coup, and David had to flee Jerusalem along with all those still loyal to him, save for ten concubines who he left to look after the house, and a few spies to keep him informed of Absalom's plans. David had the priests keep the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem. If David were to "find favour in the eyes of the Lord", then he would return and see the ark again.

2 Samuel, Chapter 16

Ziba, Saul's servant who was taking care of Mephibosheth's lands, joined the refugees. He claimed that Mephibosheth stayed behind in Jerusalem, saying "Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather's kingdom." So David gave to Ziba "All that belonged to Mephibosheth".

On their way out of the city, one man, Abishai son of Zeruiah, began throwing stones at David, cursing him, and calling him a murderer and a scoundrel. Some of David's men wanted to kill Abishai, but David spared him.

In the final verses of the chapter, Absalom marched into Jerusalem, and then, on the advice of Ahithophel, who had remained in Jerusalem and switched allegiance to Absalom, he set up a tent on the roof of the palace and "went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel."

2 Samuel, Chapter 17

Ahithophel asked Absalom to give him (Ahithophel) 12,000 men, so that they could chase down and kill David. Everybody seemed to like that course of action, but Absalom asked Hushai for a second opinion. Hushai was one of those that had stayed behind in the city, but who was still loyal to David. Hushai convinced Abasalom to wait to attack David until he had built up a bigger army.

Hushai sent word to David through a small network of loyalists, and after a bit of cloak and dagger type stuff (including two men hiding in a well), they got the message through. David and his followers crossed the Jordan that very night, putting enough distance between themselves and Absalom to be safe.

Ahithophel, who had been very well respected before, realized that he had lost his reputation. So, "he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order, and hanged himself."

The final verses detailed the movements of Absalom and his troops, and David and his troops, including a mention of some of the people who helped provision David's forces.

2 Samuel, Chapter 18

David organized his forces in preparation for battle. He had originally intended to go out with them, but the men convinced David to stay behind and not go into battle. His parting orders were to "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom."

With Absalom's and David's forces assembled, the showdown took place, and of course David's forces were victorious. Interestingly, one verse stated that "the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword."

Absalom's personal defeat would almost have been comical, if it hadn't ended so violently. "Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on." When this was reported to Joab, Joab ordered one of his men to kill Absalom. But the man wouldn't do it, because of the king's orders. So, "He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak." And then, for good measure, ten of Joab's armor bearers surrounded Absalom and finished the job. They then took the body, buried it in a pit in the woods, and covered it with a pile of stones, which, according to the NOAB, was a form of burial reserved for "a cursed person".

Two messengers went to deliver the news to David - one who only knew of the victory, and one who knew of Absalom's death. When David learned what had happened, he went to his chamber to weep for Absalom.

2 Samuel, Chapter 19

When Joab got back and learned that David was sulking, he would have none of it, "for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased." Joab convinced David to go back out in the sight of the people.

The rest of the chapter was mostly politics - who wanted David back as the king, who had been faithful to him, who was rewarded and with what, etc. One that stuck out to me was Joab losing his command to Amasa. Another was going back to Saul's servant, Ziba, and Saul's crippled son, Mephibosheth. Ziba started off the chapter kissing up to the king. Later on, Mephibosheth came to meet the king, and explained that he hadn't been disloyal. He'd wanted to go with David the whole time, but Ziba abandoned him. As proof of his loyalty, "he had not taken care of his feet, or trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes, from the day the king left until the day he came back in safety." In the end, Mephibosheth allowed Ziba to keep all of his property. Mephibosheth was just happy that David was safe.

The chapter closed with a conflict between the people of Judah and those of Israel.

2 Samuel, Chapter 20

Not everyone was happy that David was back. One man in particular, Sheba son of Bichri, spoke out against him. He left Jerusalem and the Israelites followed him, though the people of Judah remained faithful to David.

The poor concubines who had been 'entered' by Absalom were now unfit for David. So, he locked them up in a house under guard. And while he provided for them, he no longer visited them. "So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood."

David asked his new commander, Amasa, to assemble an army to pursue Sheba. Joab took his men, too. Somewhere along the way, Joab caught up to Amasa. And, being the ruthless man that he his, Joab approached Amasa in a friendly manner, but then sneakily drew his sword and "struck him in the belly so that his entrails poured out on the ground, and he died." Since everyone was stopping to look at Amasa who "lay wallowing in his blood on the highway", Joab had his body moved off the road and covered. With Amasa out of the way, Joab was back to being commander of the army.

Sheba found his way to Abel of Beth-maacah, and when Joab and his forces arrived there, they set up a siege. A 'wise woman' in the city contacted Joab, and they made a deal that Joab would not destroy the city if they gave up Sheba. So, the woman went back to the city and convinced the inhabitants to follow the plan, "And they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab." And with that, the siege was over.

2 Samuel, Chapter 21

The NOAB notes that these chapters may be out of order from the way they were originally collected. Many of these stories seem to fit better chronolically earlier in the books of Samuel. For instance, the story related below probably originally occurred before Absalom's attempted coup - explaining why, in Chapter 16, Abishai son of Zeruiah called David a murderer. And the introduction to the song of praise in Chapter 22 makes it appear either out of place or like it was tacked on later, "David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul."

There was a famine in Israel, and it turned out to be Saul's fault, for the Lord himself said, "There is blood-guilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death" (even though this action of Saul's wasn't mentioned elsewhere in the Bible). In other words, all of Israel was being punished for what Saul had done, even though Saul was already dead. David went to the Gibeonites to see how to make it right with them, and all they wanted was to "let seven of his sons be handed over to us, and we will impale them before the Lord at Gibeon on the mountain of the Lord." So David went along with their request, sparing only Mephibosheth (that is, the Mephibosheth that was the son of Jonathon - verse 8 had another Mephiboseth being handed over). And the Gibeonites "impaled them on the mountain before the Lord". Their bones were gathered up, along with those of Saul and Jonathan, and they were all buried. And with all that barbarity completed, "After that, God heeded supplications for the land."

There was another battle with Philistines. This time, David was so old that he got tired in the midst of fighting. He was rescued by Abishai, but the people convinced him to never go out to battle again.

And then there was more fighting with Philistines. There was a brief mention here that probably came from an earlier version of the slaying of Goliath, "Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam."

2 Samuel, Chapter 22

Chapter 22 was a song of praise from David to God. As discussed above, it appears out of place in its current location. Anyway, it was a fairly typical song of praise from the Bible. It was a little interesting to see how God was portrayed as basically a super-human, not the fuzzy, non-corporeal God that many Christians now believe in:

9 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
   and devouring fire from his mouth;
   glowing coals flamed forth from him.
10 He bowed the heavens, and came down;
   thick darkness was under his feet.
11 He rode on a cherub, and flew;
   he was seen upon the wings of the wind.

The description of Yahweh also seemed to fit with him as a storm god, as was probably his original role in the Canaanite pantheon.

I was also struck by how many allusions were made to war and fighting. The ancient Hebrews must have had a pretty violent culture to perceive their god this way.

2 Samuel, Chapter 23

Chapter 23 supposedly gives "the last words of David" in "The oracle of David", even though David doesn't die until the next book of the Bible. This was another typical praise given to God.

The bulk of the chapter was a list of notable warriors who served under David, and brief mentions of some of their exploits.

2 Samuel, Chapter 24

For some reason not given, "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel". He incited David to perform a census. And for some reason I still don't understand, there was a horrible taboo against counting people back then (the NOAB notes that it may have been the implication of taxes or conscription), so Joab tried to persuade David to not go through with it. But David insisted, and the census was performed, "in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand."

Immediately afterwards, though, it was noted that "David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people." So he prayed to God to "take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly," even though it was God who had incited him to count the people to begin with. So, God gave David three choices for penance - three years of famine, three months of being chased by his foes, or three days of pestilence in the land. David, too proud to allow his enemies to chase him, chose the third of those choices. God sent a pestilence that killed 70,000 people before the angel had reached Jerusalem. God had the angel spare that city, but it moved on and was at the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David was distraught that God's angel was killing so many people, "I alone have sinned, and I alone have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father's house." So the prophet Gad told David to go and build an altar at Araunah's threshing floor. And David did, along with sacrificing an oxen, of course, not to mention burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being. All these sacrifices apparently softened God's heart, "So the Lord answered his supplication for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel."

This whole story, if you imagine it to be true, paints such a horrible picture of Yahweh. He incited David to do something, and something pretty innocuous at that. But then, because David actually did it, God started punishing all of Israel. And then, after David sacrificed a few innocent animals, Yahweh decided to change his mind.


1 and 2 Samuel were actually fairly good, by Biblical standards, at least. There was a good narrative to follow, with a decent amount of character development. From the standpoint of seeing the Bible just like any other mythology, the books were pretty interesting. However, from the standpoint of seeing the Bible as something that people believe to be the actual divinely inspired word of God, the stories weren't so good. While I recognize that David was shown to have good and bad traits, some of the things he did that the authors intended to be good weren't so good by modern standards. And God himself certainly didn't act very good, especially in those last few chapters.

Perhaps my favorite character from 2 Samuel is Joab. His role changes depending on your viewpoint. If taking the Bible at face value, he's merely a ruthless commander who has no problem killing others to advance his position (and he'll be punished accordingly in 1 Kings). But, if you try to imagine these stories as being based on some kernel of truth, with the writers presenting a sanitized version of David's exploits meant to make David look better, then Joab takes on a new role. He's basically David's enforcer. Almost every time Joab killed someone personally (rather than in battle), it was taking out one of David's political rivals, benefiting David. It's as if David had Joab do all his dirty work, so that David could keep his own hands clean and not tarnish his public reputation.

This theme of David masking his motives wasn't limited to Joab - the story of handing over Saul's sons to the Gibeonites was another example. While couched in language of blood-guilt, it's also rather convenient to eliminate all of your potential rivals to the throne. And it's also worth noting that the only descendant of Saul's that was spared was Mephibosheth, who due to his disability posed no threat to David. In fact, the NOAB notes that perhaps a real historical David might have spared Mephibosheth, and a later writer might have invented the story of friendship between David and Jonathan to explain this behavior.

Of course, it's hard to tell just how much of these stories might be true. Given the discrepancies and still visible signs of combining multiple, disparate sources (such as the multiple deaths of Goliath), it's clear that these books aren't historically accurate in any modern sense. But whether they're nearly entirely legendary and the writers were trying to push their version of the legend, or whether they have kernels of truth and the writers were trying to glorify real people, is still open to debate.

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.

Updated 2013-07-24: My normal approach to these entries is to first read the passages in the Bible (usually through this page since I can access that on my cell phone), and then to read all the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible to gain insights I might have missed when reading on my own, and then to write these entries. Well, I was running a little behind in keeping up with the footnotes, so I wrote this entry before I'd read them all. Now, that's not the first time I've done that, but this time I did miss a few big points. So, it was worth going back and updating a few sections. I also expanded the wrap-up.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Samuel 1 to 2 Samuel 10

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).

Bible2 Samuel continues on with the narrative from 1 Samuel. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), at one point 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel were one book (which of course was the result of combining several previous sources), and were only split into two books with the Greek translation for spacing purposes. Recall that 1 Samuel ended with the death of Saul, so 2 Samuel picks up the story with David's rise to power.

2 Samuel, Chapter 1

Saul had just been killed at the end of 1 Samuel, so this chapter focused on David's reaction. He actually learned about Saul's death from an Amalekite warrior. The Amalekite claimed to have found Saul wounded on the battlefield, that Saul asked the Amalekite to kill him to put him out of his misery, and that the Amalekite then obliged. He took Saul's crown and armlet to deliver to David, presumably hoping to get a reward. Instead, David was furious that the Amalekite would have lifted his hand against the Lord's anointed, and had him killed.

There are two different ways to interpret this story. My first thought was that it came from a different tradition where Saul didn't kill himself. But the NOAB suggested another possibility, that the Amalekite was lying about the whole situation, and had merely plundered Saul's dead body. In the first interpretation, David's reaction would seem particularly harsh, since Saul himself had asked the Amalekite for the mercy of death. In the second interpretation, David's reaction wouldn't be too far out of line with the sort of standards I've come to expect from the Bible.

The chapter ended with a long song of lamentation that David sang for Saul.

2 Samuel, Chapter 2

On the Lord's advice, David settled in Hebron. There he was made king over Judah. One of his first acts was to reward the people of Jabesh-gilead who had recovered Saul's body from the wall of Beth-shan.

Abner, the commander of Saul's army, set up Saul's son, Ishbaal, as king over Israel. This set up the beginning of a conflict that would be the subject of the next few chapters, over who would become the ruler over all of Egypt. There was a rather odd passage about a conflict between Ishbaal's men and David's men.

14 Abner said to Joab, 'Let the young men come forward and have a contest before us.' Joab said, 'Let them come forward.' 15 So they came forward and were counted as they passed by, twelve for Benjamin and Ishbaal son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. 16 Each grasped his opponent by the head, and thrust his sword in his opponent's side; so they fell down together.

The rest of the chapter was fighting between David's supporters and Ishbaal's supporters. One point that will be important later on was when Asahel chased Abner. Abner tried to get Asahel to stop chasing him, but Asahel wouldn't stop. "So Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. He fell there, and died where he lay."

2 Samuel, Chapter 3

The fighting between the two sides continued. Abner, even though technically a servant of Ishbaal, was building up his own power. The tension came to a head when Ishbaal accused him of sleeping with one of his concubines. After that, Abner sent word to David that he was willing to work with him, and David agreed so long as Abner brought him his wife, Michal (who had been remarried in the mean time). The NOAB points out that this may not have been for a deep affection between David and Michal, but for political purposes, maintaining his marriage with the daughter of the king to give himself a legitimate claim to rule. After that, Abner began convincing the rest of Israel to side with David.

When Abner came to visit David in person, David threw a feast for him, but given their history, some of David's servants were suspicious of Abner's true motivation. In particular, Asahel's brother Joab was out for revenge. Joab sent messengers to bring Abner to him, and then "took him aside in the gateway to speak with him privately, and there he stabbed him in the stomach." David was aghast at this assassination, cursed Joab and all his descendents ("May the guilt fall on the head of Joab, and on all his father's house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks food!"), and gave Abner a full burial and mourned for him. This collective guilt aspect of the Bible is one of the stranger aspects for a modern reader - cursing a man's whole line of descent for his actions.

The NOAB noted that this may have been another case of protesting too much, where perhaps the writers were trying to separate David from the death of Abner because others believed he had something to do with it.

2 Samuel, Chapter 4

Ishbaal's power was crumbling. Two of his captains decided that he was a lost cause, snuck into his house, and killed him. They then beheaded him and took the head to David, hoping to get a reward for killing his enemy. But David retold the story of the Amalekite that had claimed to kill Saul, and told the two captains that their actions were even worse because it was in the man's own house. So he had them killed, their hands and feet cut off, and their bodies hung up for display.

2 Samuel, Chapter 5

Now that he had no rival, David was the undisputed ruler of Israel, and consolidated his power with all the different tribes. His first campaign that's described (briefly) in the book was the conquering of Jerusalem. After that, King Hiram of Tyre sent David gifts, and had his carpenters and masons build a house for David. Then David took more concubines and wives. The chapter ended with a couple battles with the Philistines, where David first inquired of the Lord what to do, and followed Gods' instructions to ensure victory. It was notable that David and his men captured the Philistine's idols. I wonder if this is a relic from before Judaism was completely monotheistic, and if the writers thought that enemy idols still contained some type of power.

There was one strange aspect of the story of David taking Jerusalem. The king had said to him, "You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back." On the day he conquered the city, David had said, "Whoever wishes to strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates." And then the very next sentence read, "Therefore it is said, 'The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.' " It just seemed like odd details to include in the story.

2 Samuel, Chapter 6

David went to go get the ark of God. There was a big procession with dancers, lyre & harp players, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. But when they hit a bump in the road, a man named Uzzah reached out his hand to stop the ark from falling. God showed Uzzah his appreciation for saving the ark, "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God." This angered and scared David, so he left the ark at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.

After three months when it was apparent that Obed-edom was being blessed by God for housing the ark, David went to get the ark for himself to take back to Jerusalem. There was another big procession, along with animal sacrifices.

Michal saw David dancing in the streets and was disgusted with him. Apparently, his clothing was rather scant, "How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!" David responded that he was dancing before the Lord, so there was nothing wrong with what he did. In a slightly ambiguous statement, it was revealed that Michal had no children till the day of her death. It's unclear if this was a punishment from God, or because David never slept with her again.

2 Samuel, Chapter 7

Once David was settled into his house, he saw that "the ark of God stays in a tent." So, he was going to build a permanent house for God, as well. But God visited the prophet, Nathan, and gave him a message for David. David, himself, was not to build the house for God. God would establish a house of David, and one of David's descendants would be the one to build God's house. He also made a promise to David, " I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you." David spent the second half of the chapter praising and thanking God.

2 Samuel, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 was all about David's military conquests - the Philistines, Metheg-ammah, the Moabites, King Hadadezer, the Arameans of Damascus, Betah and Berothai, the Edomites, etc. David also received tributes from King Toi of Hamath. The end of the chapter listed some of David's officers and officials, and mentioned that his sons were priests.

2 Samuel, Chapter 9

David decided to look for any remaining heirs of Saul "to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan's sake". There was one, mentioned briefly in Chapter 4, Mephibosheth. He had been dropped as a toddler when, after his father had been killed, his nurse tried to flee with him into hiding. Now, in Chapter 9, David restored to Mephibosheth the lands that had belonged to Saul, and had Mephibosheth eat at the king's table always. David summoned Saul's old servant, Ziba, and made Ziba and his family a servant to Mephibosheth, to work the fields and provide for Mephibosheth.

2 Samuel, Chapter 10

After a time, the Ammonite king, Nahash, died, and his son, Hanun, succeeded him. Based on the good way Nahash had dealed with him, David sent emissaries to Hanun to deliver his condolences. Hanun's advisors convinced Hanun that David had actually sent the emissaries as spies, "So Hanun seized David's envoys, shaved off half the beard of each, cut off their garments in the middle at their hips, and sent them away." This was apparently a grave insult to the Israelites. The Ammonites, fearing Israelite retaliation, assembled an army. David, seeing the newly formed army, sent an army of his own to confront them, led by Joab. With the Lord on their side, Joab and his forces were victorious, but the Arameans regrouped at Helam. Now, David himself led an army of even more Israelites, defeated the Arameans, and killed the commander of the their army, Shobach.


2 Samuel continues on in the same way as 1 Samuel. The hints of multiple prior sources are there, but it's still a more coherent book than some of the previous books of the Bible. And the narrative structure and stories are more entertaining than some of the previous books.

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.

Monday, June 24, 2013

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.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Samuel 10 to 1 Samuel 20

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).

BibleI realize that I apologized in the previous installment of this series, but now I must do it again. The other project I mentioned in that previous post took up a lot of my time, so I fell behind in this series. And with the hiatus, I've lost my momentum a bit, so please bear with me as I get back into the swing of this. I fear I may have made this entry a bit too long (although there was a lot to cover), so hopefully next week I'll be back in better practice.

Chapters 11 through 20 of 1 Samuel continue with the story of Saul, and the beginning of his falling out of favor with God. They also introduce one of the most famous characters from the Bible, David, including the well known story of David and Goliath.

1 Samuel, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 continues the story that was introduced in the end of the previous chapter. King Nahash of the Ammonites is attempting to conquer the Gadites and Reubenites. But the elders of the city of Jabesh have managed to convince him to give them seven days to look for help among the Israelites. A conquering giving a city time to look for help seems odd, but I guess the reason Nahash would allow something like that is that the Jabehites promised to surrender without a fight if no help came.

Now came a passage showing that this story was independent of Saul's coronation in the previous chapter. Rather than a messenger going to inform him directly, the messengers simply spread the message in his town, and he didn't find out what was going on until he came in from the fields and asked what all the commotion was about.

Once Saul heard what was going on, he sent out messengers to all of Israel to gather soldiers, but he sent the message in a rather bloody way. He slaughtered a yoke of oxen and cut them up into pieces, sending the pieces with the messengers, along with the message that whoever didn't join with him would have their own oxen slaughtered in a like manner.

So a force was assembled and they beat the Ammonites in battle. There was a short section where Saul deigned not to kill the people who had previously questioned his kingship, and then there was more ceremony and sacrifices.

1 Samuel, Chapter 12

Samuel gave a speech to the Israelites, first establishing his own reputation, then giving a very brief summary of what the Lord had done for the Israelites, before getting to his main point. The Israelites had been wicked by asking for a king, since the Lord was supposed to have been their king. As punishment, God sent a thunderstorm to destroy their wheat crop. The Israelites asked Samuel to pray to God to ask Him for forgiveness, and Samuel told them not to worry because God would "not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself." If they would "Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart," they would be okay.

1 Samuel, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 began in a strange way, "Saul was ... years old when he began to reign; and he reigned for ... and two years over Israel." The footnote explains that the numbers were missing from the oldest Hebrew text, and that the verse was missing from the Septuagint.

This was the chapter where Saul fell out of favor with the Lord. After some small battles with the Philistines where the Israelites were victorious, both the Israelites and the Philistines gathered in larger numbers. The Philistines amassed a greater force, and some of the Hebrews went into hiding.

Apparently, Samuel had given Saul instructions to wait seven days, at which point Samuel would join Saul. But after waiting the appointed time, Samuel hadn't shown up, and Saul's troops were deserting him. So, he took matters into his own hands, and offered a burnt offering to the Lord on his own. As soon as he had, Samuel arrived, and told Saul he'd made a huge mistake, "You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever, but now your kingdom will not continue..." After telling Saul that God would find a new, more worthy ruler, Samuel left.

The chapter closed with a mention of Philistine raiding parties, and a description of how most Hebrews were unarmed because of Philistine laws that they weren't allowed to own weapons. Only Saul and his son, Jonathan, had sword and spear.

1 Samuel, Chapter 14

Jonathan snuck out of the Hebrew camp into the Philistine camp with his armor bearer, but without telling anyone where he was going. Trusting in God, they showed themselves to the Philistines, and started fighting. After killing 20 of the enemy, the Philistines began to panic.

The Hebrew camp saw what was going on, but not who was responsible. After taking a roll, they realized it was Jonathan. While this was going on, the panic increased in the Philistine camp, so the Hebrews rallied and charged into battle, defeating the Philistines.

Saul had made a rash oath that day, "Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies." So, all of his troops were famished and exhausted, and not able to slaughter as many Philistines as they would have, otherwise. However, Jonathan hadn't heard his father's oath, and ate a bit of honey before he was told of it.

That night, the troops slaughtered and killed some animals, but they didn't follow the Kosher rules and drain the blood. So, Saul had a large stone brought before him that he could use as an altar to slaughter the animals properly. After that, Saul wanted to go after the Philistines to complete the slaughter of the enemy soldiers, but first he had the priest check with God to see what to do. But God didn't answer, so Saul gathered the leaders to figure out what sin had been committed. Through lots, it was determined that the guilt fell on Jonathan, for the honey he'd eaten earlier in the day. During the course of casting lots, Saul had said that whoever was found guilty would be killed, but the people would have none of it once it was discovered that Jonathan was the guilty party. "So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die." The Israelites didn't chase down and slaughter the Philistines that night.

Just think about this story. Would an all powerful god really be so concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spririt. Jonathan had no idea he was breaking an oath when he ate the honey, yet God was willing to punish the Israelites for it, and it even required a ransom for Jonathan to not be killed.

The chapter closed by describing how Saul fought valiantly for Israel for the rest of his kingship, defending the Israelites from their enemies. This last part seems to be from a tradition where Saul was held in high esteem, not as the villain he becomes in the Bible.

1 Samuel, Chapter 15

Chapter 15 opened with Samuel relaying a message from the Lord to Saul, "I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." Talk about holding a grudge - the Amalekites alive at the time had nothing to do with the Hebrews during the Exodus, but collective guilt is a theme of the Bible.

So, Saul attacked the Amalekites, but he didn't utterly destroy everything in the battle. He captured the king alive and took the best of the livestock, but killed everyone else and destroyed everything else. On his return, when Samuel asked him why he hadn't done as he'd been told, Saul said that he had brought the best back to be sacrificed to God in Gilgal. But Samuel told him that he was wrong, and that he should have followed the Lord's instructions exactly. At the end of the lecture, Saul was told, "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king." (again, despite being told nearly the same thing in the last chapter).

So once again, this book indicates that blind obedience is more important than intent.

After Saul poured is heart out, Samuel agreed to worship with him one more time. Then Samuel took care of King Agag, he "hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord".

The chapter closed by saying that "Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death," which will be contradicted shortly, and also that "the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel."

1 Samuel, Chapter 16

God sent Samuel to Jesse the Bethlehemite the find the next king of Israel. Samuel had each of Jesse's sons come before him, and each time God told Samuel that it wasn't the right one. After seven sons had been rejected, Samuel asked Jesse if he had any more sons, and learned of David, who was out "keeping the sheep". Once David was brought before Samuel, God told him that this was the right boy, so Samuel annointed him the horn of oil he'd brought along.

After the Lord had left Saul, "an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him." (Note that this evil spirit came specifically from God.) Saul's servants told him to look for someone who could play the lyre to comfort him. Well, it just so happened that a certain son of Jesse was well known as a lyre player. So Saul sent for him and David entered into Saul's service. "Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armour-bearer." David remained in service to Saul, and would play the Lyre to comfort him whenever he was tormented by the evil spirit.

1 Samuel, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 contains the famous story of David and Goliath. The Philistines had gathered for battle, and the Israelites gathered to confront them. A mighty Philistine warrior, Goliath, came out of the Philistine camp and challenged the Israelites to single combat, "If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), Goliath's description is a bit anachronistic - his armor didn't fit any particular period, but was a hodge podge of different items. Additionally, the description of his height as "six cubits and a span" (9'-9") is questionable. The Dead Sea Scrolls and numerous other versions describe it as "four cubits and a span" (6'-9") - still very tall, but more realistic.

Next, David was introduced - an indication that this story was originally independent of the earlier account of David. In this story, David was still taking care of his father's sheep rather than serving Saul as his armor-bearer.

Twice a day for forty days, Goliath repeated his challenge. One day, David went to the Hebrew camp to take some supplies, and while he was there he heard Goliath's challenge. He began asking around about it, "For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" His brothers told him not to be rash, but eventually Saul heard of this youth. Once Saul saw that David was only a boy, Saul told David that he was too young to fight. But David responded that he had already defended his father's flock against bears and lions, so he was not defenseless. So Saul allowed David to go fight Goliath.

After a somewhat comical episode where Saul tried to dress David in his armor and David was unable to walk, David went out to face Goliath armed with only a staff, his sling, and his faith. After exchanging threats back and forth, they approached each other to do battle, and David used his sling to strike Goliath in the head with a stone, killing him. However, there's a bit of a discrepancy in this section, as this is immediately followed with, "Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it." So there are two verses saying Goliath had been killed, possibly from different traditions. According to Wikipedia, it's also possible that in the original story, David struck Goliath in the leg, causing him to stumble, after which he killed him with the sword.

With the death of Goliath, the Philistines fled, while the Israelites pursued and killed many of them. David took the head of Goliath back to Jerusalem, but kept his armor for himself. The chapter closed with Saul questioning David about who his father was - another indication that this story was independent of the previous chapter.

After thinking about this story a little bit, it seems even more improbable as presented here. Given the stakes involved in the battle, if David really was such an unlikely hero, what king would have allowed David to represent all of Israel against Goliath?

It's also worth mentioning that a much shorter version of this story appears in 2 Samuel 21:19, but with Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim being the one to kill Goliath. If I had to guess, I'd wager that the Elhanan version was the earlier version (more substantial than presented in 2 Samuel), and that in time it got attached to David's legend.

1 Samuel, Chapter 18

When David met Saul's son, Jonathan, the two became fast friends, "the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." In fact, Jonathan even presented David with his robe, his armor, and his weapons - all symbols of the monarchy.

On the return from the battle with the Philistines, the women of the towns would sing, "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." This is another indication of yet another source. Whereas the previous chapter presented David as the young, unlikely hero who only fought with Goliath, this verse shows him as a mighty warrior who killed many of the Philistines. And of course, Saul was jealous with David over this, "So Saul eyed David from that day on."

The next few verses were a short aside, "The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul", and he actually tried to kill David with his spear, throwing it at him, but David was able to escape.

To remove David from his presence, Saul made David a commander in the army, hoping that he would die in battle, but David had great success in that and just made Saul even more jealous.

Next, Saul promised David one of his daughters in marriage, but then gave her to someone else instead (still with the sexism and ownership of women).

But another of Saul's daughters, Michal, was in love with David, and so Saul thought to use this to his advantage. He promised her to David, but only if David would obtain for a wedding present "a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged on the king's enemies." Again, Saul was hoping that the Philistines would kill David. But of course, David was successful, killed the hundred Philistines, cut off their naughty bits and delivered them to Saul. The wedding went through, and Saul became even more afraid of David.

The chapter closed with a verse describing David having more military success against the Philistines.

1 Samuel, Chapter 19

Saul's jealousy against David was reaching ever higher levels. Now, instead of just putting David in dangerous situations, he was plotting to actively kill him. Initially, Jonathan was able to intervene and keep Saul from following through on his talk. But after another battle with the Philistines, "an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul" yet again, and he again tried to kill David while David was playing the Lyre. David wasn't safe even in his house as Saul had sent guards to watch him so that David could be killed in the morning, so David had to escape from his house in the middle of the night. His wife aided him by making a lump in his bed from an idol and decorating it with a head of goats' hair and some clothes to fool the guards into thinking he was still there.

After fleeing the city, David met up with Samuel, and the two of them went off to Naioth. When Saul learned where they were, he went to the city, but "fell into a prophetic frenzy" before Samuel, despite what was said in Chapter 15 about them never seeing each other again. Saul stripped his clothes and "lay naked all that day and all that night", giving another etymology for the expression, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"

1 Samuel, Chapter 20

After fleeing from Naioth, David met up with Jonathan. But there's a bit of discontinuity here. Despite David being on the run for his life in the previous chapter, in this one, he's expected to be eating meals with King Saul in celebration of the new moon. However, David suspects that Saul is planning to kill him, so he decides to hide in a field until he's sure of what Saul is going to do. Jonathan is going to be the go between, making excuses for David's absence at the table, and then judging his father's reaction. They arranged a signal whereby David would know if it was safe to come out of hiding or not - in three day's time, Jonathan would return to where David was hiding to do some shooting with his bow and arrow. If he shot them short of the servant, it would be safe for David, but if he shot them long and told the servant to go retrieve them, David would know that it wasn't safe.

On the first day of the new moon, Saul wasn't suspicious of David's absence, assuming that he was just unclean and couldn't enter the city. But on the second day, his suspicions were raised. Jonathan made an excuse for David that he'd gone back to Bethlehem to be with his family, which greatly angered Saul that Jonathan would take David's side. Saul tried to kill Jonathan with his spear, but Jonathan escaped.

On the third day, Jonathan went to the field to give the signal to David that it wasn't safe. But immediately afterward, David came out, and the two had a long goodbye before David left. This last part must have been tacked on, as it makes their whole signaling system completely superfluous.


These chapters weren't as coherent as the previous ten chapters from this book. There were a lot of indications that they were made from combining multiple sources, and places where it just completely changed the continuity of the story. However, I suppose that is to be expected for a figure as important as David - there would be many legends associated with him, even if they were contradictory. The other aspect of these chapters that struck me was God's reaction to Saul - even though Saul often had good intentions, he wasn't obediently following the letter of the Lord's commands, and so he got into trouble for it.

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.


Selling Out